2019 – Best of the Best, Worst of the Worst, Grand Totals

Hello!

It’s the 31st of December and I’m furiously typing away to put together my end of the year list.  Forget about me making a Best of the Decade list — I’d be working on it for weeks.  Instead, take a read at the movies that have sparked joy in me over the past twelve months and which have made my eyes glow red with anger. 

This year I made a promise to myself to review every new movie I had the good fortune to screen/see in theaters and I’m pleased to see that I kept that promise throughout.  It required more of my time and involved prioritizing some work but I feel the end result was worth it.  I hope to continue that as we approach the NINTH year of The MN Movie Man.  What a wild ride.

Although I’m slightly aghast at the amount of movies I saw this year (look below, I’m a bit horrified to reveal the number here), I’ve learned a lot by seeking out films that are off the beaten path and not just sticking to the mainstream releases.  Critics nowadays seem to be only bringing attention to movies that are easily accessible but I think we should all be working harder to push ourselves into highlighting and championing the smaller films that are being pushed out of theaters by an endless array of blockbusters (which I also quite like, by the way).  If you’re a critic and reading this — I challenge you to review on your blog/channel/page at least one movie a month that didn’t get a mainstream release.  It was a huge creative step forward for me this year — try it for yourself!

As always, I’ve appreciated your feedback, your patronage, and your general presence in my blog. Even if you read this everyday but have never commented or made contact I can still tell you’ve been here and that means a lot.  

If you haven’t already, make sure to follow this blog, follow me on Twitter (@joemnmovieman), follow me on Instagram, and like my Facebook page so you can help me continue spreading the news about The MN Movie Man.

Best Wishes to you and yours for a most Happy New Year!

~Joe (The MN Movie Man)

5. Us – It was just two years ago that Jordan Peele’s feature directorial debut Get Out landed on top of my Best of 2017 list. Fears of a sophomore slump were put to rest with the arrival of Us, a more straight-forward horror film from Peele that frightened me something good. There’s less of the social commentary that was present in Get Out but Us does have some interesting things to say if you read between the bloody lines. This was one of the few movies I saw twice in theaters and both times it was highly effective, thanks in no small part to Lupita Nyong’o’s incredible lead performance. Back in March I felt like Nyong’o could be an Oscar contender and hopefully in a few weeks it will happen – she’s part of an excellent cast telling Peele’s twisted tale. So good.

4. Apollo 11 – After the languid First Man in 2018, I thought I had had my fill of space movies for a bit and certainly didn’t think there was there anything more to learn about the Apollo missions that hadn’t already been covered. Then Apollo 11 snuck into theaters and sent me out of orbit with praise. A staggering documentary that features an astonishing amount of never before seen footage remastered so that it looked like it was filmed yesterday, watching this brought out the happy tears in me. Gorgeous to look at and filled with edge-of-your-seat moments, it’s one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen.

3. The Farewell – The good buzz on The Farewell followed it into theaters after it debuted to strong acclaim in Sundance. From director Lulu Wang and based on her real life family, it’s a sweet but not saccharine look at a different culture and the way they choose to deal with death. I appreciated there were so many opportunities for viewers like myself to learn more about Chinese customs in addition to watching a beautifully touching story unfold. Known for her more comedic work, Awkwafina logged an impressive dramatic debut but the movie belongs to luminous Shuzhen Zhao as the grandmother kept in the dark by her family about her recent diagnosis of a terminal disease. You’ll cry, but not for the reasons you’d expect.

2. 1917 – Among the many successes that 1917 can claim is keeping my attention during what is traditionally a rough genre for me. Diverting from your standard war film tropes, writer/director Sam Mendes (Skyfall) and his co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns side-step the landmines of recreating a well-known incident from the first World War and opt to go with something more personal. Shot to look like the entire two hour movie was filmed in one take, aside from its stunning achievement in cinematography it has two appealing stars and a moving story to tell. I was fully engaged from frame one until the last credit onscreen and once this opens wide in January 2020 I think audiences will feel the same way.

1. A Hidden Life – I’ve spent the last two months since I saw A Hidden Life thinking about it almost daily and while I knew it would be in my top five of the year, it’s ability to stay so emotionally fresh with me kept pushing it higher up in the ranks. I honestly could have flipped a coin between this and 1917 but in the end writer/director Terrence Malick’s magnificent film was the only choice for me. Though it has disappointingly been given a paltry release, I’ve been urging everyone to get to the theater and see this pronto because it has some truly majestic moments that deserve to be viewed on the big screen. Malick’s film centers around a Austrian conscientious objector during WWII and the devastating effect it has not just on him but his family struggling to keep going in his absence. It’s a somber film but filled with some of the best views I saw all year and two quietly powerful lead performances that hold it all together. It will still have an impact on the small screen but if you have any chance to see A Hidden Life at your local moviehouse…do it. It’s my favorite film of the year.

Honorable Mentions: Parasite (2019), Ad Astra, Avengers: Endgame, Bombshell, Crawl, Doctor Sleep, Knives Out, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, Premature, Queen & Slim, Ready or Not, The Irishman, Saint Frances, The Kid Who Would Be King, The Mustang

5. Dumbo (2019) – Even though Disney will wind up the year the most profitable studio thanks to their owning most of the big franchise pictures that made billions, they can’t escape that they released some stinkers in 2019 as well. You’ll notice their live-action remake of Aladdin is down in Dis(Honorable) mentions and while a live-action The Lion King didn’t totally sully the memory of the animated original it didn’t make the kind of money it was predicted to. I actually enjoyed the new Lady & The Tramp on Disney+ but Tim Burton’s update of Dumbo was a real mess. Adding new characters, taking what was a simple story, and drowning it in excess, it was an eye-sore and it made my butt-sore. They say an elephant never forgets but they’d definitely make an effort after watching this three-ring disaster.

4. Serenity (2019) – One of the first movies I saw in theaters last January was the much-delayed Serenity. Boasting a bevy of A-list Oscar favorites, this mystery wanted to be steamy and twisty but would up being a laughably bad attempt at meta-filmmaking that was sunk quickly after opening. Relying on one totally crazy twist that isn’t hard to spot, actually, viewers didn’t watch the movie as much as they sort of just bore witness to it all falling apart in front of them. I like almost everyone in this and would never turn my nose up at a modern day noir, but the route Serenity travels on is too far-fetched. Jump ship on this one fast.

3. Her Smell – Numerous critics I respect have Her Smell on their Best of the Year list and would probably be wide-eyed to see it as my #3 worst of the year but this experience in agony was too much to handle. Star Elisabeth Moss earned praise for diving head-first into the role of a self-destructive singer whose years of hard living alienate her from everyone she loves but it comes off like Moss was just riffing in rehearsal and it was caught on camera. The move alienates you almost from the start and spends it’s first hour following Moss as her character embarks on a repulsive spiral into darkness. Full disclosure – I watched this for about twenty minutes before fast-forwarding to the latter half which I had heard made the first part worth the wait. It didn’t.

2. Aquarela – I honestly have never tried so hard not to fall asleep in the middle of a movie than I have watching this documentary. Boasting new filming techniques and shown with a frame rate to create images that felt close to lifelike, the bells and whistles can’t mask this is a supremely boring film. Charting various forms of water, it’s almost entirely dialogue-free and set to a score that will have you plugging your ears if you haven’t already run for the door. About halfway through, I got the feeling audiences were being tested on their stamina in finding the end purpose and eventually allowed myself to close my eyes. I didn’t fall asleep but could have easily conked out – yet I kept one eye open just so can say that “I Survived Aquarela”.

1. Child’s Play (2019) – Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking the original Child’s Play from 1988 was some untouchable classic – because watching it again shortly after seeing this heinously awful remake (as a palate cleanser) reminded me the one that started it all has its share of clumsy moments. Yet it remains a well-oiled machine of a film, occasional issues aside. That’s not the case with this ill-advised update that’s almost insulting to watch. No real thought went into this, including the performances. Aubrey Plaza should be fined some sort of audience taxation for her dreadful acting – the crummy new doll is even a better actor than her. I was so mad coming out of this movie…and I’m still mad today. Worst of the year, no question about it.

Dis(Honorable) Mentions: Aladdin (2019), Yesterday, Vox Lux, Trick (2019), Lucy in the Sky, Climax, Brightburn

Most Misunderstood: Alita: Battle Angel – this is one that had so much potential but perhaps was too big of a reach even for it’s high-flying filmmakers. I enjoyed this overblown sci-fi film boasting impressive visuals and a motion-captured leading actress. True, this was adapted from an Asian source and the American-ization of it didn’t help, but I have a feeling this is one that people will discover as time goes on and wonder why the hinted at sequel never materialized. A disappointing box office take likely means we won’t get a follow-up on the same scale…but perhaps goodwill will win out.
Honorable Mention: Black Christmas (2019)

Joe’s Humble Pie Award of 2019 (movies that turned out differently than I expected going in): Angel Has Fallen – A silly Gerard Butler vehicle gets some extra attention on my end of the year list? Well it deserves it for being an entertaining entry in Butler’s surprise franchise that casts him as a government agent protecting our national security. The first film, Olympus Has Fallen, was mediocre but fun while the sequel, London Has Fallen, is ghoulishly terrible. I didn’t have high hopes for this one because it seemed to come out of nowhere, but the sneak attack worked to its advantage. Totally was better than I ever thought it would be.
Honorable Mention: Midway (2019)

Two Movies You Probably Haven’t Seen But Should: Wild RoseLuce – I already feel like I’ve been talking about Wild Rose too much and I’m building people up to be let down but it truly is one of those rare indie films that has the goods but not many people have caught on yet. Star Jessie Buckley (Judy) turns in one of my favorite performances of the year, her acting is grand but her singing is off the charts. She could record an album tomorrow and have an entirely other career if she wanted. Sort of in the vein of A Star is Born but not nearly as tragic, it’s my new “go-to” when people ask me what they should watch.
Special mention to Luce for featuring Octavia Spencer’s best performance to date, which ironically isn’t getting any attention in the end of the year awards. What Spencer does in this adaptation of a play is nothing less than extraordinary and coupled with star on the rise Kelvin Harrison, Jr. (Waves), Naomi Watts, and Tim Roth you have a recipe for a movie that’s challenging and will spark discussions after. Absolutely keep your eye open for this one to show up on streaming services soon.

Others to Consider:

Absentia
American Factory
Border (Gräns)
Capernaum (Capharnaüm)
Fighting with My Family
Food Coop
Haunt
Juliet, Naked
Minding the Gap
Science Fair
Secrets & Lies
Swallow
Sweetheart
Tea with the Dames
The Boys from Brazil
The Invitation
The Lost City of Z
The Slumber Party Massacre
The Wedding Banquet (Xi yan)
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before
Vampire Circus

Click HERE for a full listing of films seen in 2019
Total Movies Seen in the Theater: 150
Total Movies Seen at Home: 286
Grand Total for 2019 (not counting films seen multiple times): 430
Where I Saw the Most Movies – Showplace ICON (46!!)

Movie Review ~ Avengers: Endgame


The Facts
:

Synopsis: After the devastating events of Avengers: Infinity War, the universe is in ruins. With the help of remaining allies, the Avengers assemble once more in order to undo Thanos’ actions and restore order to the universe.

Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Anthony Mackie, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Chadwick Boseman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sebastian Stan

Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 181 minutes

TMMM Score: (9.5/10)

Review: My advice right off the bat for all of you planning on seeing Avengers: Endgame is not just to avoid spoilers but to avoid any liquids for several hours before the show. This will save you the hard decision on when is the best time to run to the bathroom and let you fully enjoy this grand finale from the creative minds at Marvel Studios. After 22 films and more than 10 years, the time has come to finally close the book on the Marvel Cinematic Univerise as we currently know it. Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly more stories to be told and countless movies to be made but there won’t ever be a time when all of the characters we have come to know and love (and maybe not care for at all) will be in the same film at the same time.

While this review will not contain any spoilers for Avengers: Endgame, it’s hard to discuss this movie without giving away key plot points from 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War. Read on with confidence that your enjoyment of Avengers: Endgame isn’t going to be spoiled in advance.

First, a refresher.

At the end of Avengers: Infinity War the big purple baddie Thanos (Josh Brolin, Oldboy) had achieved his goal of gathering the six infinity stones and used them to wipe out half of the population on earth. With a snap of his fingers, Thanos “dusted” some of our beloved characters who were part of the unlucky 50% that were collateral damage in a misguided attempt at population control. As seen in subsequent films Ant-Man and The Wasp and Captain Marvel, no one was spared with people either turning into particles carried away on the air or left behind to mourn their fallen loved ones.

Avengers: Endgame starts so casually (the Marvel Studios logo and title card appear at well-timed points later) that I wasn’t even sure the movie had begun. It’s like the days when you had a double-VHS to watch and just popped in the tape and things picked up right where you left off. Suddenly, you’re just back in it like a whole year hadn’t passed since the last movie ended. Picking up with a character we haven’t seen in some time, the movie quickly moves forward in establishing where our heroes are and takes its time in bringing them back together again.

Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have wisely been given the time to really explore the lasting effects on all who remain and convey to us their feeling of loss. Just like audience members were left all torn up after the snap from Thanos, so too are these super men and women who don’t know how to move on from the tragedy. While much of the 181 minute run time is devoted to amazing action sequences and visual effects that represent the tippy top of quality yet seen in these films, there’s almost an equal amount of space given to continue to give these comic book characters a dramatic arc that feel completely earned at this point.

The film kicks into high gear when an Avenger feels like they’ve figured out the key to identifying what happened to the people that disappeared…and gathers the group together for a final mission that will take them to places, emotions, and alternate dimensions heretofore unexplored. Much the way the previous film found a creative method in pairing up the Avengers to divide and conquer, directors Anthony and Joe Russo juggle multiple storylines without ever letting things fall by the wayside or allowing audiences to get ahead of the action. Two hours into the movie and I still had no idea how it was all going to end.

End it does, though, and with the kind of rousing action and developments that feel just even if they sting.   Every fan has a theory of who will survive until the credits and who might emerge as a new leader but I would say that you shouldn’t go into the movie trying to figure out how things will wrap up. Stay present in the moment and leave it to the writers and directors because they have your ultimate best interest (and entertainment) at heart.

As has been the case over the entire series of films, the impressive cast roster is what truly sets the Marvel films apart. Leading the pack is Robert Downey Jr. (The Judge) as Tony Stark/Iron Man. We’ve seen Tony grow from cocky businessman to cocky hero to cocky recruiter of future Avengers and his investment in this last film is right up there with his all-time best work. The character could easily have become abrasive and unlikable but Downey has always managed to keep him just ever so slightly on the tolerable edge as tough but lovable. There’s also good work from Chris Evans (The Iceman) who we’ve seen become a leading man before our eyes. Evans wasn’t always the most interesting actor in films but he’s shown such growth since he first took up Captain America’s shield that you know that whether he continues with the films or not (I’m not telling!) he’ll have another career in films where he isn’t always in battle with foes from space.

Continued good work from Chris Hemsworth (Rush) as Thor shows how the actor came back from having a character start off shaky until he finally found his rhythm and made the Norse god something memorable and unexpectedly funny. After two previous Hulks failed to make the role their own, I’m eternally grateful that Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher) was enlisted to take over way back in The Avengers. And if you can’t get enough of Scarlett Johansson’s (Under the Skin) Black Widow and her ever changing hairstyles you won’t have to wait too long as a standalone origin film centered on her and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner, Tag) is about to go into production.

As for the rest of the supporting players, you can’t throw a gummi bear at the screen without hitting another familiar face that pops up from an earlier film – most are expected sights to be seen but there are a few nice surprises along the way. I don’t want to mention any of them but will let you pick out your favorites along the way. Even from a filmmaking perspective, this is a great looking movie that has been composed with care featuring excellent performances. There’s a somber shot near the end of the movie that calls back to that first amazing camera work in The Avengers which managed to capture all our heroes in one long swoop of action.

Filled with rousing moments (I almost got out of my seat and started jumping up and down for joy in one goose-bump inducing scene) and peppered with gasp-inducing twists that will likely have you reaching for your Kleenex, the emotional payoff in the last 45 minutes is equal to anything I can recall from the last decade. Yeah, it’s easy to dismiss this as another superhero movie in a long-standing franchise that will make billions of dollars but this is something more robust, more special.  There’s no denying that everyone involved knows they have a responsibility and shows great respect for each loose end that is tied up. It may have taken over twenty films to wrap up those loose ends but the wait was ultimately worth it. I just look forward to see what happens next.

 

Marvel Cinematic Universe

Phase One
Iron Man (2008)
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Iron Man 2 (2010)
Thor (2011)
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)

Phase Two
Iron Man 3 (2013)
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Ant-Man (2015)

Phase Three
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Doctor Strange (2016)
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Black Panther (2018)
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Ant-Man and The Wasp (2018)
Captain Marvel (2019)
Avengers; Endgame (2019)

Phase Four
Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)