Well, the decade is coming to a close, and with it come the end of two major eras in cinema history. Though Disney has no plans to end the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the Star Wars saga anytime soon, 2019 brought an end to what’s been dubbed “The Skywalker Saga” as well as bringing 22 interconnected comic book movies to a loving crescendo.
Including these spectacular milestones, I once again saw 125 movies in the cineplex this year, 64 of which scored an A- or higher. The movies listed as part of my best and worst lists do not include any films that premiered on a streaming service, and are only based on those movies I saw between January 1 and December 31, 2019. Now without further adieu, here are my picks for the top ten best and top five worst movies of 2019.
Top 10 Best
Bonus Choice (#11) — Knives Out
Knives Out has a stellar cast who work perfectly together as they navigate a murder mystery that isn’t so much a mystery as it is a red herring. What makes this team of actors soar the most is director Rian Johnson allowing them to bring these characters and all of their idiosyncrasies to life without much interference. Ana De Armas especially has fun playing the deceased’s nurse maid, who Daniel Craig’s private detective keeps by his side during his investigation because she can’t lie without literally throwing up. Johnson keeps everything, including the exposition, moving at a steady pace and turns all of the familiar tropes of the murder mystery on their head to delightfully spastic amusement.
#10 — Shazam!
DC finally got smart and lightened the heck up. Under the leadership of Zack Snyder, DC has tried desperately to emulate Marvel’s cinematic dominance, only to see the majority of the franchises covered in criticism due mostly to their long, sluggish, dreary, and overly-stylized takes on their slate of superheroes. Wonder Woman and Aquaman started to steer the ship in the right direction, but they finally hit the sweet spot with Shazam!, a wildly entertaining film that’s allowed to be fun and silly, but still feel like it fits into the DC film universe. If this film was made in the eighties, Tom Hanks may have played the title character, but the film is in great hands under Zachery Levi, a manic, man-child who can pop in and out whenever he or his alter ego, Billy Batson (Asher Angel), yells “Shazam!”, and his chemistry with comic-book geek Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) is on point. A steady thought-out mix of humor, playfulness, drama and heart is what made Marvel so successful, and Shazam! pulls it off with ease… perhaps because they didn’t let Zack Snyder anywhere near it!
Speaking of Marvel, how do you follow-up a global blockbuster like Avengers: Endgame? You send Peter Parker (Holland) to Europe and have him battle for his place in the world among superheroes. Robert Downey, Jr. still has a huge influence over the new Spider-Man universe; so-much-so, Iron Man’s visage permeates the film as Peter struggles to fit in among the post-snap world. Everyone expects him to be the next Tony Stark, but as a sixteen-year-old high school kid, he isn’t up for that task, not with raging hormones and being a kid getting in the way. Though the film does feel a little more juvenile than Spider-Man: Homecoming, Holland continues to prove why he was the best choice to embody the new Spider-Man, as he plays well against all of the major stars (including Samuel L. Jackson and Jake Gyllenhaal, joining the cast as Mysterio), breezes through whatever scenario he’s given with kinetic charm, and isn’t afraid to dig deep within his soul to show how deeply he misses his mentor. With one major blow during the first end-credit scene, Spider-Man:Far From Home closes out the ramifications of Thanos’s snap while looking ahead to what the future may hold.
#8 — The Peanut Butter Falcon
Everyone talks highly of the Keanussance, however, there’s one other actor who seems to have found a healthy resurgence this year — Shia LaBeouf. The first of two terrific performances in 2019 that prove LaBeouf is still a powerful actor, The Peanut Butter Falcon reminded me the most of why I hope his rehabilitation sticks and that he’s able to follow in the footsteps of Robert Downey Jr. and win his way back to shine once again on the big screen in major ways. Partnering this time with a mentally-challenged co-star (Zack Gottsagen) who rises to go toe-to-toe with LaBeouf in every scene, the movie is a tried-and-true road-trip movie with a huge heart.
#7 — Toy Story 4
Toy Story 4 is a movie we didn’t know we needed. After such an emotionally resonate end to the Toy Story trilogy, everyone expected the franchise to be put to bed once-and-for-all. When it was announced there would be a fourth installment, no one was sure what to make of it; when we finally got to see it, Pixar hit us again with yet another emotional gut punch. Toy Story 3 may have ended Andy’s story, but Toy Story 4 takes the franchise a step further by closing out Woody’s (Tom Hanks) story. The send-off doesn’t quite live up to the previous three films, but the film holds its own while delivering some terrific humor, a nice love story, and some fun new characters, including Keanu Reeves as an arrogant motorcycle stunt toy.
#6 — Parasite
Every now and again a small film comes out of the woodwork that mesmerizes your senses. I am not afraid to say that I’m not a fan of most foreign language films, but love when I find one that works. Parasite is one of those films. As it examines the life of a destitute family who slowly and methodically infiltrate the life of a posh, elite family, it’s both frightening to think there are people in the world that could do this to someone, but exciting at the same time, as we try to understand what exactly the film is about. As each new piece is uncovered, and we learn more about each of these characters, we see that no matter what rung of society you may be on, the secrets you carry with you can haunt you forever. Parasite ends up being a small, quiet film that slow burns its way through your mind, well, like a parasite.
#5 — Ford v Ferrari
Ford v Ferrari is a breezy, thrilling ride, mostly due to the performances and chemistry of Matt Damon and Christian Bale as Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles, respectively, the true-life duo who helped the Ford Motor Company compete against Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans throughout the sixties. It is quite evident that Bale is having a blast as Miles; his posture, his mannerisms, and his spirit are on full display as a man whose life lives inside a race car. Add a winning performance by Damon, whose shoulders the movie is being carried, and you set a nice rhythm of comedy and drama that never lets up.
#4 — Fighting With My Family
I spoke earlier of the Keanussance and Shia Labeouf’s profound resurgence, but 2019 also saw the breakout of Florence Pugh, a rising star who came into her own this year with three extraordinary performances that led to winning the role of Scarlett Johansson’s sister in next year’s Black Widow. She gave a sweet performance as Amy March in Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women, as well as an incredibly uncomfortable performance in this summer’s Midsommer; but it was in this smaller, lighthearted fare that Pugh first caught our attention. Her performance here is small and understated, but that’s what makes this true story of a small-town wrestler who rises quickly through the ranks of the WWE so powerful. Her ability to restrain her performance while at the same time create a boisterous personality is mesmerizing to watch. She keeps your attention with brevity, and it makes the film as a whole that much sweeter.
#3 — Alita: Battle Angel
Even though the film is directed by Robert Rodriguez, James Cameron’s influence is all over Alita: Battle Angel. From the story to the imagery, you immediately get immersed into this word, set a few hundred years in the future after a war between Earth and several “floating planets,” for which only one survives. Rosa Salazar is sweet and cunning as the title character. With her huge Anime eyes and petite, but lethal frame, Salazar brings to life a robot with a human brain who slowly comes to terms with who she was, who she is, and who she wants to become. The only thing the film is missing is Cameron’s direction, which could have brought the film to the level you would expect for a James Cameron sci-fi opus. But that’s a very minor criticism for this enjoyable, kinetic action-adventure.
#2 — Avengers: Endgame
What is there left to say about Avengers: Endgame, a completely satisfying conclusion to eleven years of films that start and end with Robert Downey, Jr.’s exclamation, “I am Iron Man.” Throughout the film, we get several nice references to previous films (and making sure you can’t just ignore Thor: The Dark World; the film does have a purpose!), quippy one-liners we’ve all come to expect from a Marvel film, and a couple of deaths you’re sort of expecting, but don’t want to accept, proving just how ingrained these characters, and the actors who portray them, have become in our lives. But it’s the last hour of the film that blows everything out of the water. It depicts the most epic Avenger’s battle ever by bringing almost every character we have ever met in the MCU together for the first time while providing a few stand and applaud moments that only a film like this could possibly get away with. Will there ever be another film that matches the complexity and majesty as this? There’s a reason it surpassed Avatar as the highest grossing film of all time, and it’s going to be extremely difficult to replicate. But I’m sure Kevin Feige will try.
#1 — Star Wars: Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker
Unlike a lot of movie goers and Star Wars fans alike, I believe Star Wars: Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker is the perfect conclusion to the nine-film Star Wars saga. I understand that some could see that bringing Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) back into the fold may upset the rise and fall and rise again of Anakin Skywalker, but if you really look into what is actually happening in the last act of The Rise of Skywalker, J.J. Abrahms takes what’s come before and brings everything together into a glorious conclusion. As the film focuses on our three intrepid heroes traveling across the galaxy to locate Palpatine’s layer, we’re not only given several winks and nods to both previous trilogies (and some not-so-subtle jabs at Rian Johnson and his interpretation in The Last Jedi), but provides us with closure for other characters that are both satisfying and loving. At the same time, it sets up several possible story lines and characters, because even though the “Skywalker saga” may be closed (for now), there’s plenty more for Star Wars fans to salivate over and enjoy moving forward that will always be based on this series’s ultimate timeline.
Top 5 Worst
#5 — Uncut Gems
While this movie is on most critics’ top 10 list, this critic just didn’t see what was so fascinating about Uncut Gems. Adam Sandler certainly gives a strong performance, however, the movie is loud, crude, and very uncomfortable to the point I couldn’t breathe. I understand this is the point — as Sandler’s character’s life careens out of control, so does his sense of holding anything together, and the film is produced to make you feel that stress deep within your bones. For that, it works, but under all of that noise, I didn’t find anything to like about any of the characters, nor did I find the plot to be all that interesting. To cap it all off, there are some things I’m not sure make a whole lot of sense, and because of that, I just can’t recommend it.
#4 — Don’t Let Go
Back in 2000, a small film came out about a guy (Jim Caviezel) who gets a second chance to get to know his deceased father (Denis Quaid) when they help one another stop a serial killer via a shared ham radio. The movie was called Frequency and it was a brilliant piece of sci-fi entertainment. Don’t Let Go fails to emulate Frequency‘s intlligence on pretty much every level. From the way that David Oyelowo and his niece (Storm Reid) are able to communicate, to the way the mystery is solved (and the completely wasted third act), Don’t Let Go trudges its way through a mess of a story that ultimately doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
#3 — Cold Pursuit
In 2008, Liam Neeson took the world by storm with his particular set of skills. Since then, Neeson has become the go-to actor to star in revenge thrillers similar to Taken. With Cold Pursuit, however, you can tell that Neeson is getting bored with this entire conceit. He basically sleepwalks his way through a script that doesn’t have any clue what it actually wants to be — a straight-forward thriller or a comedic spoof on the genre itself. The second act takes a weird and uninteresting detour, wherein Neeson sort of disappears, which then leads into a third act that ends with no rhyme or reason. It may be time for Neeson to hang up those skills and move on to something that brings him as much passion as his real skills need to be effective.
#2 — Crawl
I usually like a good animal-attacks thriller. Unfortunately, Crawl is not a good animal-attacks movie. I can usually forgive the stupidity of characters in a movie like this, but when the characters are so thinly drawn, uninspired and boring as Haley (Kaya Scodelario) and Dave (Barry Pepper), it’s hard to ignore every single stupid thing these characters do to remain in danger of being eaten by a family of crocodiles during a massive Florida hurricane. The dialogue is so flat, and the action sequences so inane, it’s hard to believe I would even have liked the film had it debuted as an original creature feature on SyFy. At least there they understand the genre; here, they take things far too seriously to be fun enough to enjoy.
#1 — Black Christmas
Over the past few years, Blumhouse Productions has produced several terrific horror films. It was to the point where the company could do no wrong. Then came Black Christmas, a film about sorority girls being attacked by a hooded creature. I like Imogen Poots, but she isn’t given anything of substance to use here as she meanders through a grade-z script that seems to have been written on set. By the time the third act hits, nothing makes much sense, characters do things that seem out of character, and the reasoning behind the entire thing — an attempt to fight toxic masculinity — just feels so shoved down our throats, the entire piece falters into the depths of misery.
What do you think? Did I exclude any? Did I add something that never should have made the list? Give me your top ten lists in the comments below.