Cinema Dispatch: Top 10 Best Movies of 2019

Another year has passed and as usual we have to spend the first few days of the new year looking back at what came before; usually ranked from ten to one in some fashion!  Well, let no one ever say that I’m not a part of it too as we’re here today to look at my favorite films of 2019 which turned out to be a pretty good year all things considered!  I mean… for movies at least as we’re still facing the overwhelming threats of fascism, climate change, and bigotry every single day with a commander in chief that’s only bee fanning those flames even further, but at least we have these movies to provide us with a modicum of relief and escapism between trying desperately to fix it all before it’s far too late!  Will YOUR favorites be reflected on here, or will this prove once and for all that I have absolutely no taste?  Let’s find out!!

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Honorable Mention: Dolemite Is My Name

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I have no particular fondness for Rudy Ray Moore as I only know his films by reputation, but boy was this a fun little story about yet another artist yearning to get his vision out there; and make a few bucks along the way of course!  I’ve always been a sucker for films that take place on a movie set and I even put The Disaster Artist on my 2017 list, but what sets this one apart is just how different its subject matter is from other films like it.  A lot of times these movies about artists are essentially a reflection on the creation of art itself, but few come from the world that Rudy Ray Moore came from with the priorities that come with it.  Guys like Tommy Wiseau wanted a creative outlet and the adulation of the public.  Rudy Ray Moore certainly wanted that as well, but there was more at stake with the creation of this movie (namely his career and financial stability) and there’s something a bit nobler about making a movie for an underrepresented audience than making a movie out of sheer ego.  I have no idea how accurate this movie is and you should take any biopic with a grain of salt, but for what it’s trying to do and the story it’s trying to tell, it succeeds with a whole lot of style and a whole lot of heart!

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10. Parasite

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Full Review

Bong Joon-ho’s dark fable on the inequality of Capitalism manages to find the right balance between a fun escapade and biting social commentary so that one doesn’t dilute or overpower the other.  It’s a compelling story that is filled with deeply flawed yet ultimately human characters scrambling for their piece of the pie that has been unfairly denied to them, and yet the family being targeted isn’t even the real antagonist of the movie despite how much they benefit from the system that got them where they are.  I have my problems with the latter half of the movie to be sure what with a pretty out there twist and an ending perhaps a bit TOO bittersweet for my liking, but there’s just so much to like in here from the on point comedy, the intricate planning of the con jobs, and the precarious nature of the whole situation creates a fun yet intense experience that’s unlike anything else we’ve gotten this year.

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9. Queen & Slim

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Socially conscious films told through genre conventions, especially ones starring Daniel Kaluuya, are have been more and more prominent in the last few years, and while I probably liked Get Out, Sorry to Bother You, and Blindspotting more, it’s not really worth splitting those hairs when the movie we got this year is so good.  Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith carry this film throughout its cross country odyssey of America’s ever escalating racial tensions, but the key to this movie is that it’s not the FOCUS of the film as it is the oppressive force radiating in the background of everything these characters do.  They are center stage and their growth as individuals as well as their relationship is what the movie cares most about, but in the end it’s that oppressive force that informs every decision they make and ultimately is the arbiter of their fates despite how much we’ve grown to care about them over the film’s running time.  The ending is what sealed the deal for this movie as it ends on a really powerful note (certainly a better one than the horse boys’ revenge in Sorry to Bother You) and leaves you feeling like you saw something truly important.  I guess only time will tell if this movie holds up, but for right now in this year, it does its job and it does it with aplomb.

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8. The Farewell

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It’s kind of hard to pinpoint exactly what I look for in a movie and what I would feel makes one better than the other.  Putting this very personal story about a family trying to go through a crisis as quietly as possible above the more politically charged and socially relevant movies feels like it should mean something, but I just found the characters to be so endearing in this movie and their struggles so much more relatable.  Perhaps there’s a weird intersection of privilege here that makes Billi dealing with her family in an otherwise comfortable situation more relevant to me than those struggling under more oppressive systems, but I’m not nearly qualified enough to talk about any of that so let’s talk about this movie instead!  That’s what we’re here to do, right?  It manages to pull of that perfect balance between awkward humor and ineffective frustration that is indicative of many family gatherings, and the cast seems so natural in the parts that you almost buy them as being a real family or at the very least drawing from very real experiences.  Awkwafina has been an absolute revelation in the last few years and with her proving she can do drama in this film, the sky is the limit as far as what the future holds for her and I’m sure I’ll love every minute of it!  Okay, probably not EVERY minute since that Jumanji sequel wasn’t all that great, but still!  Fun fact, by the way!  However this movie may or may not end, the woman the film is based on is still alive and supposedly isn’t aware of her condition even to this day.  Seems like it’s only going to get more and more convoluted to try and keep her out of the loop though.  Did they even bring her to the premiere, or did is her family hiding the fact that her granddaughter directed an international hit film?  These are the questions we need answers to!!

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7. Gemini Man

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This is no doubt a divisive pick, especially putting it this high on the list, but I don’t know what to tell you!  I enjoyed every silly minute of this silly little shoot-em-up more than any other action film this year!  More than Endgame, more than Spider-Man, more than even John Wick which I’m sure drops my credibility about as low as it will go; assuming I had any to begin with of course.  I made the comparison to Face/Off several times in my review and it really is the best barometer I can think of for what this movie does and why it works,  as it gets across the over the top operatic and scope of what is ultimately a very personal and emotional story.   Whether or not it makes sense to you for the guy to think of his younger self as anything more than a clone, you should at least be able to get why he would form this connection with the young dude, and on top of that his younger self isn’t just a bland cypher for Smith Prime to act around as Junior has his own struggles that he has to deal with as he finds out more and more about himself and why he is the way he is.  It all just worked for me on a very basic but no less powerful level, and the action scenes which are some of the most impressive and hard hitting of the year only add to the fun that I had with this.  Look, everyone else is gonna tell you to see John Wick 3 and I’m not gonna argue with anyone about that, but if you’re looking for something else then by all means!  This one is just waiting right there and I assure you the blu ray for this is gonna be WAY cheaper if it’s not already!

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6. The Lighthouse

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There came a point while watching this movie that I had the thought, Robert Pattinson is ABSOLUTELY the kind of guy who would jerk off in a movie if given enough artistic cred to do it.  Sure enough, he’s doing just that five minutes later.  Pattinson along with many other young actors who made all of their money upfront in big cash cow franchises (*cough* Daniel Radcliffe *cough*) has been very good about choosing roles that not only have a lot of artistic merit behind it but also challenges him as an actor.  This absurd tale of paranoia, guilt, and numbing toil, is about as good a follow up to Robert Eggers’s The Witch as we could have reason for, and while it meanders a bit too much for my liking here and there, it still manages to shock, horrify, and outright amuse all at the same time.  Anchored by two stellar performances from the aforementioned Pattinson and the indispensable Willem Dafoe, this wild story is one definitely worth taking and is made even better if you imagine Squidward and Mr. Krabs in these roles.  Admit it!  You want to see that too!!

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5. Us

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Speaking of follow ups that are about as good as we could have hoped for!  Jordan Peele’s sophomore effort is certainly a strange beast, but also an interesting and ultimately compelling creation; eschewing any kind of pedantic minutiae for explaining its universe to instead rely on guy feelings of uneasiness to sell us on the bizarre concepts at play.  Are they government clones?  Mole people?  CHUDs as the movie so cheekily insinuates in its very first scene?  The secret is that it really doesn’t matter because Jordan Peele sets an impeccably eerie atmosphere that hits you in the pit of your stomach in a way that’s not so easy to explain.  The whole cast does a great job as both their regular and tethered selves, but Lupita Nyong’o especially does wonders in bringing Red to life as someone you never quite understand but truly get the feel of as her hatred and even her dry sense of humor complement the otherworldly nature of her neigh inexplicable existence.  It’s not often that a filmmaker manages to make two iconic films back to back at the very outset of their career, but Jordan Peele is definitely someone special and we’re all eager to see what he has in store for all of us next!

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4. Knives Out

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Rian Johnson’s ode to the detective noir films of yore ends up being a better nostalgia celebration than the latest Star Wars movie.  A fitting end to an inexplicably heated couple of years for both him and the Star Wars fandom at large?  Perhaps, though even without that bit of fun context this is absolutely one of the best times I had at the theater this year!  The mystery does take an unexpected turn early on that threatens to derail the entire narrative, but if you trust it to know where it’s going then you will find an engrossing adventure with lots of little twists and turns as well as memorable performances by every great character actor of the last decade; particular the current James Bond himself who seems so much happier doing this than he does in that new Bond movie trailer.  Despite having such a prestigious role for over a decade now, he’s clearly a guy who doesn’t take himself all that seriously which is great because he’s willing to take risks like this and play characters far outside of what people expect which I guess is just as good a summary as any other for the film itself.  Nostalgic when it needs to be, modern when it has to be, and always keeping the audience at just the right distance to string them along on this journey, this just goes to show how great a filmmaker Rian Johnson is and is certainly more validation that MAYBE some of you all didn’t give The Last Jedi the credit it deserves!

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3. Uncut Gems

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Coming in right under the wire (much like how Howard does everything in his life), The Safdie Brothers give us one of the best movies of the year by making a better version of their previous film Good Time.  I loved this movie from beginning to end as Sandler’s affable performances contrasting with the despicable character he’s meant to play provides an intense experience unlike any other you will see this year.  It’s a movie all about dizzying highs with the constant threat of falling down at any point which for most of us in the audience comes off as absurd and pointlessly risky, but with just how well Sandler plays this character you end up going along with him on his journey up until the very minute that he pushes things too far and even then you kind of have your doubts that he truly did go past the point of no return.  It’s energetic, suspenseful, and funny without ever having to blow money on expensive special effects or creating scenarios far too outlandish for the audience to believe in.  Those definitely have their place in the world of billion dollar blockbusters, but it’s always nice to be reminded that the smaller movies have been doing it just as well for even longer.  I can’t wait to see what The Safdie brothers do next, and while I would like to say that I want them to expand their horizons and do something different… I’ll be honest; I just want them to keep making this movie over and over again, getting it closer and closer to perfection each time.

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2. Booksmart

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Similar to Uncut Gems, this movie feels like someone trying to make a better version of a movie from the past, and while Olivia Wilde may not have directed Superbad, she certainly knew what made it work and what needed to be updated.  I’ve definitely enjoyed my fair share of raunchy comedies from the Judd Apatow clique, but some of the movies could definitely use a bit of polishing for modern sensibilities with Superbad being perhaps the most egregious example.  It’s still funny, but it felt like it was pushing the relatability of its characters at the time (feeling a bit too old school to feel like teenagers of that era) and it’s only gotten further and further away as time has passed.  This movie may one day fall into the same trap as almost all coming of age stories eventually do, but there’s definitely something more timeless about Molly and Amy’s escapades that makes it absolutely hilarious in the here and now and hopefully relevant for years to come as the characters are genuinely sweet people who you want to see succeed even if their flaws are utterly glaring and will no doubt come to a head as the night pushes them further and further outside of their comfort zones.  There’s an absolute joy to all of this as the preconceptions that these girls have built up about themselves, their classmates, and the world they’re life they’re living right in the here and now are wrong but not in a malicious or mean spirited way; in a way that genuinely encourages growth and change.  A lot of introverts, justifiably or not, have built up defenses for themselves that can be a hamper on enjoying life in the hopes of maintaining comfort and stability, and this movie shows that it’s not always scary out there; that the people you looked down on first so they wouldn’t look down on you in turn aren’t bad people and will embrace you with open arms and maybe even a drink or two if you give them half a chance.  It’s the one night adventure film that feels like a truly fulfilling adventure instead of just a series of obstacles and I found that to be quite enjoyable as well as utterly hilarious to boot!

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1. Rocketman

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Full Review

So why is this at the top of the list?  It’s a good movie as I’m sure everyone is in agreement on, but what put this one over the top?  What makes this film so SPECIAL?  Well for one thing, it seems fitting that Dexter Fletcher who made one of the worst Musical Biopics under such difficult circumstances would come back to make one of the best in the genre, but that’s just the icing on the cake.  It’s not the MAIN reason.  No, what makes this movie so fantastic is that it transcends its own subject matter so that it works as its own narrative independent of your personal appreciation for the works of Elton John, and to be clear I’m certainly not a mega fan.  The beats of the story are hardly the most unique as far as musicians go (nothing, hit it big, money, drugs, fifty percent chance of being dead by the end), but the style, the heart, and the acting all work to make it feel if not entirely unique than perhaps the most polished version of those tropes we’ve seen in forever.  At no point do you feel the constraints of the true story weighing down an otherwise interesting character study that’s punctuated with some of the best high concept musical numbers in some time.  It’s a movie that’s not afraid to go wherever the heck it needs to in order to make a scene all that it can be, and by being so conceit with that attitude manages to make it all work seamlessly together.  Saturday Night’s Alright as a big bar number that ALSO transitions him from boyhood to adulthood?  GREAT!  The song Rocketman as a metaphor for the aimlessness he feels in his life due to the drugs and loveless relationship he’s caught in culminating in his infamous suicide attempt in a pool?  FANTASTIC!  Well okay, maybe not the right word considering how serious a subject that is, but it’s all just so beautifully realized that even the darkest moments in this man’s life can still reflect an elegance and artistry that makes this the sweetest of bittersweet experiences. Let’s also not forget about that framing device which solves one of the most persistent issues in doing a biopic by making the movie a story that that the main character himself is telling in a group therapy session, and sure SOME may see it as a cop out to stretch the truth in certain areas, but it’s all changes that feel motivated and reflect the problems that Elton John has to face up to if he truly wants to get better.  That final scene of the movie?  Woo boy was I getting a bit misty eyed, and if a movie can make me THIS happy and feel THAT strongly, well then there’s no reason it shouldn’t be at the very top of my list!

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And there it is!  The best of 2019 has been cataloged and ranked for you all to enjoy with at least one more list coming your way very soon!  Agree?  Disagree?  Let me know in the comments below!!

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You can also check out my lists from last year at the links below!!

Best of 2018
Worst 2018

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