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Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Films of 2019

As I note every December, I watch a good number of movies every year, though most are viewed on my television -- on DVD, from DVR recordings, or streamed from Netflix or Amazon Prime. This year, my spouse and I attended two film festivals and so I managed to see half a dozen films in a theater-like setting -- even if that meant most were shown in a middle school auditorium in a vacation spot.

Because I have not yet seen that many newly released films in the theater, I cannot at this time write a credible post on the best movies of 2019. Most of the highly touted films are released in December, a very busy month. Eventually, of course, I will see them. I tend to discuss those films in a post about Metacritic's best movies of the year, or in my annual entry about the Oscars.

Again this year, I missed several of the summer hits as well. Indeed, many of the best films I saw this past year were movies that I originally missed in the theaters in prior years. I saw a number of late 2018 Oscar-bait films earlier this year.

To make this abbreviated 2019 list (also, to jog my memory), I scanned the top grossing movies of the year, as well as IMDB's most popular titles for 2019. I also consulted Metacritic, which my spouse and I use to point us towards good movies all year long.

In rough rank order of my preference, these were the top 2019 films I saw this year, as best as I can recall:

Little Women *
Saint Frances **
Knives Out! *
Gloria Bell
High Life
The Souvenir
Etruscan Smile **
Dolemite is My  Name
Hummingbird Project

* I saw these films in a theater.
** I saw these films at the Traverse City Film Festival

I saw Little Women in a small theater in Long Island over the Christmas break. It's a very well made movie, though I have not yet decided if I liked the time jumps as compared to the traditional linear telling of the story. The casting of Emma Watson as the oldest sister seemed problematic to me -- despite her age, she seemed too young to be a wife and mother. Saoirse Ronan is outstanding as Jo, so perhaps Watson was merely outclassed as an actor in this film. Filmmaker Greta Gerwig definitely knows what she is doing and I would not be surprised to see her nominated for an Oscar or two (for directing or writing the adapted screenplay).

When we saw Saint Frances at the Traverse City Film Festival, the director and writer/star were interviewed afterwards. One of them said that the film had found a commercial distributor, but the film may be ticketed for a 2020 release. Watch for it if you have not had a chance to catch it.

I suspect there are some other serious Oscar contenders on this list as most feature high quality acting. Indeed, that's a very good set of movies; I'd recommend essentially all of them, although the Hummingbird Project had some script deficiencies. I found The Souvenir kind of frustrating in an artsy sort of way, though I suppose it was unique and memorable.

Knives Out! (a mystery) or Transit (a thriller) may become a future fixture on my Global Politics Through Film syllabus as both have an interesting immigration theme. I liked both more than Us (horror), which is on the next list and arguably has a similar political message. All make pointed political commentary through unusual genre choices.

The remainder of my 2019 list consists of genre films -- comedies, action flicks, musicals, and science fiction. They are not ranked very carefully, though I think that the ones near the top are superior to the ones near the bottom. All offered some entertainment, but most near the very bottom are flawed in some fairly important ways:

Brittany Runs a Marathon
Yesterday ***
Blinded by the Light
Captain Marvel
Always Be My Maybe
Late Night
Extra Ordinary **
Long Shot
See You Yesterday
Troop Zero **

** I saw these films at the Traverse City Film Festival
*** I saw this film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

I'm not typically a fan of comic book films and mostly avoid/ignore horror flicks and musicals. Captain Marvel is one of the better Marvel movies, partly because it seems more like a human story and it does not take itself too seriously. Us provides some interesting social commentary about immigration and Extra Ordinary is a humorous take on the horror genre. It's not Ghostbusters, but the main characters are interesting and worth getting to know for 90 minutes.

If you like the music of the Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, or Elton John, you probably already saw Yesterday, Blinded by the Light, and/or Rocketman. I inserted them based primarily on my preferences towards the artist subjects.

Booksmart received much acclaim this year, but it didn't grab me. I think I'm aging out of the teen sex comedy even if this one had some new twists. I thought Brittany Runs a Marathon was a far superior film and I was more entertained by the rom-com Always Be My Maybe.


Framing John Delorean **
Rolling Thunder Review: A Bob Dylan Story
Amazing Grace

** I saw this film at the Traverse City Film Festival

All of these are very good and fiddle with the documentary genre. Alex Baldwin plays the title character in various scenes of Framing John Delorean. While some of his lines are based on footage from secret FBI video, other moments are clearly imagined by the filmmakers. Perhaps it should be placed above in the list of narrative films.

If you like the music of Bob Dylan or Aretha Franklin, it would be hard to top these listed documentary choices. Both focus on the performers in a particular moment, decades ago.

Here's the annual list of 2019 movies that I intend to see in the future (hopefully in 2020):

1917, Ad Astra, Aeronauts, All is Well, American Factory, American Woman, Apollo 11, Arctic, Art of Self-Defense, Ash is Purest White, Avengers: Endgame, Bacurau, Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Biggest Little Farm, Black Mother, Blaze, Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, Breaker Upperers, Burning Cane, Chambermaid, Clemency, Day Shall Come, Diane, Echo in the Canyon, End of the Century, Egg, El Camino: Breaking Bad Movie, The Farewell, Fighting with my Family, Firecrackers, For Sama, Ford v Ferrari, Fyre, Girl,  Good Boys, Grass, Ground Beneath my Feet, Her Smell, High Flying Bird, Hotel Mumbai, Hustlers, I am Mother, In Fabric, In My Room, The Irishman, Judy, Knock Down the House, Last Black Man in San Francisco, Let the Sunshine In, Light from Light, Light of My Life, Little Woods, Luce, Maiden, Marriage Story, Mickey and the Bear, Midsommar, Mike Wallace is Here, Monos, Motherless Brooklyn, The Mustang, Native Son, Never Grow Old, Never Look Away,  Non-Fiction, Official Secrets, Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood, One Cut of the Dead, Pain & Glory, Parasite, Peanut Butter Falcon, Peterloo, Photograph, Plagiarists, Plus One, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Queen & Slim, Ray & Liz, Relaxer, The Report, Rosie, Ruben Brandt Collector, Screwball, Share, Shazam!, Slut in a Good Way, Someone Great, Sometimes Always Never, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Suburban Birds, Synonyms, Triple Frontier, Two Popes, Uncut Gems, Velvet Buzzsaw, A Vigilante, Western Stars, Wild Nights with Emily, Wild Rose, Woman at War.

Keep in mind that I didn't (yet) get around to seeing many 2018 movies from last year's wishlist:

22 July, American Animals, Anna and the Apocalypse, At Eternity's Gate, Beautiful Boy, Black '47, Blaze, Border, Boy Erased, Burning, Colette, Dark Money, Destroyer, Disobedience, Don't Worry He Won't Get Far on Foot, Double Lives, Double Lover, Early Man, Far from the Tree, Golden Exits, Goldstone, The Guernsey, The Guilty, Happy as Lazzaro, The Happy Prince, The Hate U Give, Hereditary, Hold the Dark, I Kill Giants, In the Fade, Lean on Pete, Love After Love, Mandy, Miseducation of Cameron Post, Operation Finale, Outside In, Prospect, Ready Player One, Sicario: Day of the Soldado, Sierra Burgess Is a Loser, Solo: Star Wars Story, Sweet Country, The Tale, Unsane, Upgrade, Utoya - July 22, Vox Lux, Wildlife, Zama.

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