1. Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood
Before you accuse me of thinking that Quentin Tarantino can do no wrong, please remember that I was no fan of THE HATEFUL EIGHT. Admittedly, I love most of the man’s movies, but for good reason. While much of the praise heaped on Tarantino (rightfully so) focuses on his dialogue (which remains razor-sharp), it is not only his dialogue that makes his movies great; it’s also his characters.
In ONCE UPON A TIME . . . IN HOLLYWOOD, Tarantino has written two of the best characters he’s ever created in Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his friend and sometime stuntman, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). These are two fully-formed men who are brought to life by DiCaprio and Pitt through two of the best performances of the decade.
When thinking of my favorite movie scenes, lines, or moments of 2019, I’ve realized that most of them were in ONCE UPON A TIME. Choosing just one of them as a favorite is a nearly-impossible task. There’s the scene when Cliff returns to his trailer and his dog, Brandy, after a long day of driving Rick around. Or the one where Rick and Cliff are leaving Musso and Frank’s after Rick’s meeting with Marvin Schwarz. Or the one where Sharon Tate goes to the movie theater to watch herself. Or the one between Rick and Trudi on the set of “Lancer.” Or the final confrontation between Cliff, Rick, and the Manson Family. No other film in 2019 had nearly as many memorable characters, lines, or moments. No other film in 2019 came close to being simultaneously the most personal and most universal movie.
ONCE UPON A TIME . . . IN HOLLYWOOD is near-perfection, and will stand the test of time as one of the best movies of not only 2019, but the decade.
2. John Wick Chapter 3 – Parabellum
After a confusing and convoluted second entry, JOHN WICK CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM is a return to form. Stuntman-turned-director Chad Stahelski has a finely-tuned sense for shooting action sequences; in every scene, you know who the characters are. You know where each of them are in relation to one another. You see the punches land. You see the consequences. The fight choreography is exquisite (stars Keanu Reeves and Halle Berry spent months in training, and it shows), and the set pieces are inventive. The film looks fantastic, and has a plot that expands John Wick’s universe in new and interesting ways.
Hands-down the best action movie of 2019, and one of the few American movies that deserves to be mentioned in the same conversation as THE RAID and THE RAID 2.
3. Doctor Sleep
Forty years after the events in THE SHINING, Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) is an alcoholic drifter who is battling the demons of his past. After cleaning himself up and finding purpose as a hospice orderly, he runs across a group of vampiric gypsies who seek out people who “shine” to absorb their life force.
Anchored by outstanding performances from McGregor and Rebecca Ferguson, DOCTOR SLEEP accomplishes a feat that occurs all too rarely in this world of sequels, prequels, remakes, and shared universes: it manages to be a fresh, new story that also incorporates and integrates with the original. Even though it’s based on the book by Stephen King, it departs from the book in surprising ways that are true to the source material. What results is a powerful story about a man battling his past and his demons – both figurative and literal.
With the income gap in the world continuing to widen, much has been written and said about class issues, but few artistic works have dealt with them as well as PARASITE. Few movies have stuck with me as much, or have made their point as well. With PARASITE, Director Bong Joon Ho is at the top of his game, and has crafted characters and a movie that serves as a chronicle of our time.
5. Long Shot
In LONG SHOT, an out-of-work activist political writer Fred (Seth Rogen) reconnects with his childhood crush Charlotte, who is now Secretary of State and a candidate for President (Charlize Theron). He becomes her speech writer, and during their international travels together, they fall in love. But the campaign managers and focus groups want to see Charlotte paired with someone who is more camera-ready than the schlubby Fred.
LONG SHOT is not only funny and highly entertaining, but it is also one of the most insightful, honest, and authentic movies of 2019.
What did I just watch?
That was the question running through my mind when the credits started to roll. Best viewed with an audience, “Midsommar” is not so much a movie you watch as one that you experience. It’s something of a cinematic ordeal, and I mean that in the best possible way.
While it’s relatively easy to spot its cinematic influences, “Midsommar” is undoubtedly its own thing. Director Ari Aster (“Hereditary“) has a unique voice defined by its pacing, deliberate scene composition, and a score that can alternate between comforting and jarring. These elements combine perfectly to build a sense of dread that reaches a crescendo at just the right moment. Aster expertly taps into our fears by exploiting some of the most primal elements of our humanity, while at the same time deftly exploring his themes of grief and toxicity in relationships.
It’s rare that I see a film that will stay with me as much as “Midsommar.” In a world of background noise, this movie cuts th
7. Little Monsters
Every time I think I’ve seen the last zombie comedy that will be any good, I’m surprised to discover a new one that manages to tell a new story using a similar construct. LITTLE MONSTERS doesn’t do anything particularly new, but what it does is craft a compelling story that is also very funny and a ton of fun to watch. Make sure you watch the trailer!
8. Toy Story 4
Every time I think Disney has lost its soul (see: The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast), it comes along and surprises me with a movie like TOY STORY 4. Instead of the retread, by-the-numbers film I was expecting after seeing the trailer (I swear my eyes rolled so vigorously when the preview introduced Forky), I was stunned to find that TOY STORY 4 was a poignant exploration of very adult themes like obsolescence, growing up, and discovering one’s purpose. And… Forky (Tony Hale), a suicidal toy with serious identity issues, is f*ing hilarious!
It’s rare to find a big-budget franchise movie that treats all of its characters – even the antagonists – with understanding, sympathy, and respect. But TOY STORY 4 manages that, while also telling a compelling story featuring characters we’ve come to love. I’m surprised but pleased to include it in my top 10 list for 2019, because it deserves to be there.
9. Where’d You Go, Bernadette
Aside from being the year of Adam Driver, 2019 may very well go down as the year of mental illness. WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE the best of these films in 2019. Bernadette (Cate Blanchett) is a brilliant architect who suffers with her internal demons that have prevented her from practicing her art. Her patiently loving husband, Elgie (Billy Crudup) and daughter Bee (Emma Nelson) are used to dealing with Bernadette’s quirks and love her through it all.
WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE is the rare film that features conflict without villains, and treats each of its characters with respect – even the ones who are at odds with Bernadette. In exploring its relationships, the arguments and issues are realistic, and the issues are explored with the type of honesty and authenticity that is rarely seen.
10. The Irishman
An impeccably well-crafted film from one of our best directors, working with one of his favorite subjects, telling a story that both brings a new perspective to an old story and also feels like a bookend to a career that includes some of the best films ever made.
MATT’S BEST MOVIES OF 2019: HONORABLE MENTIONS
Ready or Not
Jumanji: The Next Level