They say we should take joy wherever we can find it, and that motto's never been more apt than it was in 2019, one of the most garbage years I have ever had the displeasure of living through. Each new day brought fresh evidence that the entire world had lost its goddamn mind, that our doom might lie just over the horizon (and fingers crossed because, honestly, let's just get this charade over with) and that no one - like, absolutely fucking no one - is coming to save us.
But it wasn't all doom and gloom, particularly on the entertainment front! While politicians and hate groups and a seemingly endless supply of terrible takes did everything in their power to shatter our will to live, 2019 yielded some of the best content of the decade, both in theaters and on television. Below, you will find my list of the ten best things I saw in 2019. These TV shows, movies and the people who made them lifted us up when we were low, showed us things we never thought we'd see (Walton Goggins in tap shoes, for instance), birthed new catchphrases into our lexicon, and maybe even let us learn to love again.
Here they are, in no particular order.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD
Is Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood my favorite movie of the year? Almost. That title belongs to another movie, which we'll discuss here in a minute. But do I think Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is the best movie of the year? Yes, absolutely. There's an important distinction between "Best" and "Favorite" (which I'm sure I've discussed on this site in the past), and this is just another great example. No other movie I saw this year was as beautifully-executed as this one (the "Out of Time" sequence alone, I mean my God), as instantly iconic as this one, as intoxicating as this one. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood felt like a movie made with me in mind, juggling alternate history, serial killer/cult shenanigans and Hollywood politics with ease. It may well be Tarantino's masterpiece.
I THINK YOU SHOULD LEAVE
Nothing, and I do mean nothing, was funnier this year than Tim Robinson's I Think You Should Leave. I just watched it again the other night, and that was probably my 10th or 11th end-to-end viewing (ITYSL's ~20min-per-episode runtime, one of its greatest features, makes revisiting eminently doable). It gave us instantly iconic characters - the "No Good Car Ideas Guy", the "Honk If You're Horny Guy", "Chunky" - and added a dozen new catchphrases and terms to our lexicon ("Mudpie", "He admit it!", "He humiliated you, Charlie"). It gave us one of the most memorable songs of the year ("Their worms are their money/The bones are their dollars"), made "chodes" a popular thing to say again, and - perhaps most refreshingly of all - it came out of nowhere. For all of these reasons and countless others, I Think You Should Leave deserves a spot on this list.
THE RIGHTEOUS GEMSTONES' "MISBEHAVIN'"
HBO's Righteous Gemstones was exactly as excellent as we expected it to be, but it went the extra mile with this insanely catchy song that dominated social media for weeks after it aired. Ostensibly performed by Aimee-Leigh and Baby Billy Gemstone (read: actually performed by Jennifer Nettles and Walton Goggins), The Righteous Gemstones' "Misbehavin'" is my pick for Song of The Year. If you don't love this song, well, you can get right the fuck out of my house.
DOLEMITE IS MY NAME
We say this every time he pops up outta nowhere to deliver an excellent performance (as he did in 2006's Dreamgirls), but Craig Brewer's Dolemite Is My Name may really represent the honest-to-God return of Eddie Murphy. The comedian is on fire here, immortalizing Rudy Ray Moore with respect and dignity while also being uproariously funny (and, thank the Movie Gods, gleefully profane). Soon enough, we will have a Coming to America sequel (heads up: the script is excellent), a new Beverly Hills Cop and - if the circulating rumors are to be believed - the chance to see Murphy performing stand-up comedy again for the first time in decades. If this really is the return of Eddie Murphy, Dolemite Is My Name is ground zero for that return. If you haven't watched it yet, stop reading this list and get on that immediately.
THE RETURN OF RICHARD STANLEY
This one's sort of a cheat (as most of you will not see Color Out of Space until early next year), but man: what a pleasure it was to see Spectrevision draw the legendary Richard Stanley out of not-so-self-imposed exile to deliver one of the best Lovecraft adaptations that's ever hit the big screen. Stanley's film updates and modernizes the Lovecraft short story upon which Color Out of Space is based, but it knows its shit. It understands that unknowability and creeping madness are key to the Lovecraft formula, but it also understands that audiences need a little viscera to go on. It also understands that modern audiences like seeing Nic Cage turning in an actual performance, and this one's a real doozy. We really think y'all are gonna love this movie, and we can't wait for you to see it. It's just such a blast.
It's wild to think about now, but when HBO first announced it was bringing in Damon Lindelof to do a Watchmen TV series, some people were pretty concerned. Pissed, even. For years now, the name "Damon Lindelof" has been synonymous with "Uh-oh" amongst a certain grudge-holding portion of the internet, an increasingly unfair reputation that may have finally been rehabilitated thanks to Watchmen's overwhelming greatness. This series was better than just about anyone anticipated, a meticulously-crafted, deliberately-paced deep dive into a swirling mass of Big Ideas and awe-inspiring visuals. Its performances were top-notch across the board (I'd single out one or two folks here as specifically great, but literally everyone on this show was great). Its creative staff was unusually diverse. ts soundtrack, from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, was an absolute banger. Its conclusion satisfied most, bringing a nine-episode story in for a landing with nary a misstep. It had twists, it had turns, it had the biggest blue dildo we've ever seen in our lives. What an incredible gift this series was.
Sometimes a studio gets talked into dropping a relative pittance (in this case, $25M) on a movie that takes Big Chances. Maybe the script seems a little wonky, or the creative team's ideas seem a little weird, but maybe the director's really passionate about the material. Maybe he lines up a couple stars like Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway to headline the thing, to further sweeten the deal. And then maybe the studio drops that movie into theaters following a marketing campaign that in no way prepares general audiences for the truly bizarre shit that movie does. Such was the case with Steven Knight's Serenity, one of the most unlikely and delightfully bonkers wide releases I have ever had the pleasure of seeing in a theater. I've had nearly a year to get used to the idea, and yet I still cannot believe this movie got made. I also can't believe it's not already playing midnight screenings all over the country. Not too worried about, though. It'll happen eventually.
READY OR NOT & KNIVES OUT
It probably doesn't make too much sense combining both Knives Out and Ready or Not into one entry here - at the end of the day, they're both playing completely different games - but there are some surface similarities (and I've been boxed into delivering a list with no more than ten entries) so here we are. Both of these films scratched a number of my itches, from my need to spend time within brooding, gothic manors to my abiding interest in watching asshole families tear one another apart. Both had pitch-perfect endings (Knives Out has one of the year's best closing shots, while Ready or Not includes one of the more satisfying, ah, climaxes I witnessed all year), both revolved around a strong performance from a talented woman (Ana de Armas for Knives Out; Samara Weaving for Ready or Not), and both took a big, wet dump on the ruling class. Maybe it's not so weird I paired these two up, after all.
THE DAY THEY DROPPED THE FIRST CATS TRAILER
The internet, as you know, is bad, and social media ranks among its worst features. In yet another case of being worried about if we could rather than if we should, social media has connected artists to fans, politicians to voters, and internet writers to website readers in a way that has led to many, many unfortunate moments, but every once in a while social media - and the internet at large - will come together to dunk on a thing that absolutely deserves to be dunked on. There were many "Funny Twitter Days" this year (I've found that the number of "Funny Twitter Days" is often directly proportional to how bad The News gets, and this year The News was very bad, indeed), but none were as fulfilling, savage and flat-out hilarious as the day Universal dropped the first trailer for Tom Hooper's Cats. It felt like the entire world took one look at what they'd done and said "Absolutely fucking not", and proceeded to windmill dunk on Cats until there was nothing left but a $6.5M box office opening. The internet is bad and social media is worse, no doubt, but sometimes it is just.
Listen, I literally just reviewed the Safdie Bros' Uncut Gems (here's that, if you missed it), so I'm not sure I have anything new to say about this one. It's my hands-down favorite movie of the year, a two-hour anxiety attack featuring a career-best performance from Adam Sandler (and, yes, I'm factoring Sandler's work in Punch Drunk Love into that equation), a hypnotic score, and some of the year's most thrilling set pieces. It's an electrifying viewing experience, one that left me gasping for breath and eager to take the ride again, and the story it tells feels absolutely perfect for the year we all just survived together. The Safdie Bros. have been on their way up for years now (gentle reminder to see Good Time if you haven't already), and Uncut Gems feels destined to be their first crossover hit. I hope these guys continue making movies for years. If any of them are even half as entertaining as Uncut Gems, we've got a lot to look forward to.