topfilms2019

Endings. That’s what people are going to talk about when they talk about 2019. The end of a decade, yes; but also quite a lot of movies that feel like conclusions to both sagas and careers. The Marvel machine produced its biggest, loudest, longest, and in some ways most satisfying entry to date – the towering Avengers: Endgame. The enormous cast, the scale of the epic, and the sheer impossibility of ignoring it as a cultural event meant every other movie this year was just renting space on Kevin Feige’s turf.

That includes an entry into a saga with much deeper cinematic roots. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker blasted into theaters at the end of the year to be met with its inevitable mixed reactions. A story that started in 1977 wrapped up with the expected amount of fireworks, but its rocky pacing and wild narrative leaps left a lot of fans wanting.

Other stories, too, saw belated chapters being written. Doctor Sleep found new adventures for Danny Torrence of 1980’s The Shining; M. Night Shyamalan returned with Glass, the long-awaited sequel to his 2001 superhero original Unbreakable, as well as Split; Zombieland got a sequel, bringing the original cast back together after 10 years; and Toy Story 4 saw Woody and the gang in their first outing since 2010.

Then there were the movies that felt like swan songs from directors looking back on their careers. Martin Scorsese’s mournful The Irishman was chief among them, but there was also Pedro Almodovar’s autobiographical Pain and Glory, and Tarantino’s nostalgic Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Yet, in a world where at least four classic Disney movies were remade as “live-action” abominations this year alone, it’s not all death and re-animation (even if The Dead Don’t Die and Zombieland Double Tap prove to the absolutely zero people who were asking that, yes, zombies have been played out for a long time). Fresh voices continue to appear. This year alone we got second features from such promising up-and-comers as David Robert Mitchell (Under the Silver Lake), Jennifer Kent (The Nightingale), Robert Eggers (The Lighthouse), Dan Gilroy (Velvet Buzzsaw), Greta Gerwig (Little Women), Jordan Peele (Us), Riley Stearns (The Art of Self-Defense), and Ari Aster (Midsommar). Not to mention feature directorial debuts from Joe Talbot (The Last Black Man in San Francisco), Olivia Wilde (Booksmart), and Brie Larson (Unicorn Store).

Sure, we’re swimming in more worthless Netflix Christmas movies than we know what to do with. But at the same time, Parasite is a phenomenon and now a bona-fide Best Picture winner despite being a South Korean dark comedy with no stars. So you take the good with the bad, the new with the old.

And today, I give you my personal picks for my 10 favorite movies of 2019. Enjoy!

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2018 was a big year for me personally. In many ways it was the most significant of my life so far. In May I got engaged, and recorded the first full-length album with my band. In October, I got married. Went on my honeymoon. Navigated the first holiday season as a member of a new family. It was wonderful. It was also a lot.

With so many major life events demanding my time, energy, and focus, it’s only natural that the hobby of movie watching and reviewing fell by the wayside, at least somewhat. 2018 was the year in which MoviePass ran out of favor (and money) roughly a year after its historic price drop brought an unprecedented number of subscribers to the service. It was the year FilmStruck left us. So not only was my movie viewing down by sheer numbers, but the avenues by which to explore it were narrowing as well.

All this is to say that I didn’t see as many movies as usual in 2018, and as such I don’t feel that my annual top list is as meaningful is it might have been. I know there’s so much that I missed. And I know, therefore, that this list isn’t likely to turn anyone on to any small movies that flew under their radar. So I can’t help but feel my excitement about this annual effort isn’t what it usually is. That said, I can’t break with tradition; and my discussion of movies is always about what they mean to me and not about any supposed social import or insider clout. So it is without pretense or ego that I offer you the 10 movies I liked most from last year.

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2016.

Just saying it is enough to make some of you cringe.

There’s an ongoing narrative about how awful this year has been, and not just in American politics. I’ve heard more than a few people say that 2016 has been underwhelming for movies, too, and I can certainly see where they are coming from. Personally, I’ve found a great many movies this year to be disappointing. In a lot of cases I was either let down by something I was anticipating, or I didn’t share my peers’ enthusiastic response to films I enjoyed. I found Deadpool, Jackie, Zootopia, and The Magnificent Seven to be uninspiring at best. Two of my favorite up-and-coming directors (Jeff Nichols and Denis Villeneuve) released three films between them and none was particularly strong. And even though I liked Arrival, Rogue One, Sing Street, Hell or High Water, The Wailing and others, I wouldn’t say any of them were better than pretty good. So in some sense my experience fits the concept of a weak year.

However, we live in a time when the media harvest is nothing if not plentiful. There are so many movies being made by so many people that you’re bound to find the good ones if you look long enough. While I merely scratched the surface of all the films released this year, that was enough to reveal gold amidst the dross. This year saw new films by Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, the Coen Brothers, Nicolas Winding Refn, Paul Verhoeven, Shane Black, Clint Eastwood, John Carney, Richard Linklater, Whit Stillman, and Pixar. We had exciting debuts from Robert Eggers, Kelly Fremon Craig, Dan Tractenberg, and the Daniels; and auspicious new features from such talents as Jeremy Saulnier, Damien Chazelle, and Fede Alvarez.

It’s not every year you witness a masterpiece, but my number 1 film of 2016 is just that. So let’s get there, shall we? Here are my 15 favorites from 2016:

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The Brood | They Look Like People | Vampyr | Monsters | Peeping Tom | Bram Stoker’s Dracula | Housebound | The Omen (1976) | The Fog (1980) | Blood Feast | Cat People (1942) | The Changeling | Altered States | The Guest | The Funhouse | Would You Rather | Christine | The Verdict


“Do you like scary movies?”

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I love movies about music.

I’ll give you a moment here to process the shock.

Virtually anyone who knows me could have likely predicted that I would say this, since music is such a big part of my life. It’s a thing that drives me to create, to push my own boundaries and to weather disappointment time and again. So when I watch a film that deals with that process, those struggles, that joyous and heartbreaking expression, it’s easy to see why I immediately identify. Not only that, but music in general, including scores and soundtracks, contributes hugely to making films memorable and impactful – a statement with which I think even the casual moviegoer would agree.

Recently I found myself reflecting on my taste in movies, and as I did so I thought about what it is that makes someone’s list of personal favorites personal. What are those films that are not merely good movies, but that say something about the person who choose them, the person who is moved or enriched by them? After all, that is at the heart of Raptor Reviews’ purpose to be transparent about how our own biases, experiences and preferences shape our conversation about film.

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Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Director: Wes Anderson
Starring: Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray
Running Time: 1 hr, 34 min
Rated: PG-13


Review by Brother Reed

To this point, I have been mostly lukewarm towards the films of Wes Anderson. Maybe this is because they are so distinctly his that one takes time to become acclimated to his style. Anderson is such an aggressively quirky director that his movies are almost parodies of themselves. They seem to stand up and scream “Look how quirky I am!” and that can immediately turn people off or drown them in style rather than drawing them in. At the least they are an acquired taste. His films all look like storybooks, or miniature plays constructed out of dollhouses and populated with cardboard figurines onto whom have been projected feelings, ideas and actions foreign to them. When I watch The Royal Tenenbaums, I can almost see Anderson’s directorial hand moving his actor playing pieces around the set, telling his story through avatars that mingle personal experience with myth. His goal is not to convince us we are watching real life but the retelling of it, run through a filter. Maybe The Fantastic Mr. Fox was the quintessential Anderson film in that the puppetry was so obvious. READ FULL REVIEW

The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Director: Drew Goddard
Starring: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Fran Kranz
Running Time: 1 hr. 35 min
Rated: R


Review by Brother Reed


If you haven’t seen The Cabin in the Woods and are the type of person who likes to get the most out of your movie-going ventures, take heart. I’m about to tell you how to have a great time in 5 easy steps.

Step 1: Go to Fandango, IMDB, Moviephone, or other online movie outlet of your choice.
Step 2: Find out when and where The Cabin in the Woods is playing near you.
Step 2.5: Buy your ticket now (optional).
Step 3. Stay away from trailers, spoiler-trapped movie forums, and reviews. Oh yeah, and stop reading this review.
Step 4: Leave your baby with a sitter.
Step 5. Go see The Cabin in the Woods.

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Just Go With It (2011)
Director: Dennis Dugan
Starring: Adam Sandler, Jennifer Anison, Brooklyn Decker
Running Time: 1 hr. 57 min
Rated: PG-13


Review by Brother Reed

Just Go With It, Adam Sandler’s latest comedy, is a big, grating sitcom cliche dragged out for two seemingly endless hours. It’s replete with lowest-common-denominator gags, it contains not a single honest or believable emotion, and the deception that drives the entire plot could easily have been avoided if every last one of its characters was not a brainless schmuck. Honestly, you should know better than to go see this movie without having to read any reviews; but since you’re here, be warned. It’s worse than you think. READ FULL REVIEW

Red (2010)
Director: Robert Schwentke
Starring: Bruce Willis, Mary Louise-Parker, Morgan Freeman
Running Time: 1 hr, 51 min
Rated: PG-13


Review by Brother Reed

Remember a few years back in Live Free or Die Hard when Bruce Willis was old? Well in Red he’s still old, and this time so are all his friends. If you think that sounds depressing, you could hardly be more wrong. It’s like if the gang of retirees who occasionally meet for breakfast at Hardee’s had at one point been highly-trained government operatives and are just biding their time until something exciting comes along. The over-the-hill cast of this over-the-top thrill ride are quite obviously having a blast, and their contagious energy is what makes the movie so much fun. Red is a movie that you can’t take seriously because you were never meant to. You were meant to laugh at one-liners and cheer when the good guys win. READ FULL REVIEW

Dinner for Schmucks (2010)
Director: Jay Roach
Starring: Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Jemaine Clement
Running Time: 1 hr, 54 min
Rated: PG-13


Review by Brother Reed

If you laughed at the trailer for Dinner for Schmucks, you’re probably a fan of Steve Carell. And who isn’t? The man is one of the most gifted comedians working in film or television today. The American version of The Office, a fixture of TV these days, got off the ground almost entirely due to his involvement. He’s given a boost to other comedy bigwigs like Will Ferrell, Jim Carrey, and Judd Apatow. You know you can expect a completely committed (not to mention totally bonkers) performance from him every time. The good news about his new starring vehicle, Dinner for Schmucks, is that Carell delivers on those expectations once again. The bad news is that the movie is much less consistent. In fact, it’s downright bipolar. I can’t remember the last time I sat in a theater going from chuckles to sighs and frowns so quickly or so often. READ FULL REVIEW