You can definitely comb through 2019 and find a lot of heavy, sad films, but my favorites of the year reveal a surprising amount of fun. That doesn’t mean they’re all nice or happy movies, but a lot of these put a smile on my face more than a tear in my eye, which strikes me as different than usual and somewhat interesting to note. Looks like 2019 is the year where we solved all our problems and learned to just have a good time! Another surprise: no straight-up action films. Weird!
10. Avengers: Endgame
It’s finally over. Okay, there will be more Marvel films but the high excitement I brought to first viewings of these will be diminished somewhat going forward (that new Spider-Man was proof). The Marvel experiment paid of spectacularly with this film, which was not at all what I expected and thrilled me from beginning to end. It’s not quite as good as last year’s Infinity War, but the achievement is no less impressive.
I called this a list of fun movies. Nobadi is dark, containing one of the year’s most gruesome sequences. But the way it reveals itself is a total blast. What looks like a somewhat typical Oscar-bait story about a grumpy old man finding friendship with a poor illegal immigrant takes a turn that’ll leave you speechless in the best way possible.
We don’t do worst of lists here. If we did, Bohemian Rhapsody would have topped mine last year. Rocketman rights every wrong made by that film. It’s respectful of its subject and uses his music to tell his story in ways that reveal how silly it is to make these musical biopics so painfully literal.
7. The Peanut Butter Falcon
2019 was the year of LaBeouf. While the very good Honeyboy does not make this list, I had to find a spot for this gem about two outsiders who find each other and… put on a wrestling show. Sometimes it’s best to just stick with a storytelling classic. The Peanut Butter Falcon isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel. It just wants to win you over with its charm and warmth. It worked on me far more than I expected.
6. The Last Black Man in San Fransisco
Okay here is one that isn’t much fun at all. It’s not mired in misery either. This is just a quiet, beautiful, meditative film with maybe the year’s most gentle spirit. Its unique charm is difficult to describe, which makes it hard to recommend to folks. All I know is I’m thankful I saw this one, and it holds a special place in my heart when I think of 2019.
5. The Art of Self Defense
If you asked ten filmmakers to make a film like this, I feel like nine would fail. The level of satire here is razor sharp and always on the verge of tipping into too much absurdity, or too mean a spirit. It never quite does. Riley Stearns made the best comedy of the year, one that never stops surprising and never lets plot get ahead of delivering jokes.
4. Dolemite is My Name
This is on Netflix and you should just watch it. Few films this year provided such a strong blast of happiness, charm and optimism mixed with glorious amounts of filthy language. Add to that pitch-perfect performances from a very missed Eddie Murphy and a hilarious Wesley Snipes and you have a genuinely must-see 2019 film. Just pop it on and see how much you love it.
3. Doctor Sleep
I didn’t even want to see Doctor Sleep. I know the book only by its bad reputation, and don’t feel overly reverential toward The Shining. It just didn’t seem interesting to me, especially once I learned about its runtime. I was wrong. Doctor Sleep is a film that transfixed me, perhaps because King’s flawed storytelling engine made for a plot that failed to follow conventions. That’s just a theory though. What I really loved with Ewan McGregor’s wounded but yearning Danny Torrance, the way the villains in the film were prey all along, its focus on the legacies of alcoholism and how much the film’s characters believe in each other instead of having to go through a process of being convinced over and over. This was easily the most surprising delight of the year.
2. Uncut Gems
I am so happy I don’t have a Howard Ratner in my life, but I will gladly watch him manically write his own doom and triumph over and over again. The Sadfie brothers already had a lifetime of fealty from me, but they just keep getting better and better. This is one of those films with so much energy and voice, it’s hard to imagine people quietly writing it at all. It feels like it exploded into reality instead. On top of all that, it’s a very satisfying experience for those of us who still love Adam Sandler despite his many many many bad films.
1. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Tarantino at his warmest. And least interested in plot. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood features moments of tension but almost totally lacks urgency, asking instead that you just sit back and bask in the glow of its characters, dialog and adoration for a passed era. I just love it. If I had to pick only one film from 2019 to watch, this would be it. Though thank goodness no asshole is making me do that.