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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2017 was a movie year marked by what I would call uncommon consensus. It’s not that everyone liked all the same movies, but, well, everyone kind of liked all the same movies.

Upstart movies like Get Out and Lady Bird were immediate hits with critics and audiences alike, which held all the way through awards season where both are now Best Picture nominees. Lacking a high-profile foreign-language crossover like Toni Erdmann, critical opinion coalesced around a few arty indies like Personal Shopper, A Ghost Story, Call Me By Your Name, and The Florida Project. Audience favorites Christopher Nolan and Edgar Wright released Dunkirk and Baby Driver respectively to positive box-office and generally good reviews. Audiences loved The Greatest Showman and Beauty and the Beast – again. They hated Darren Aronofsky’s mother! with a fiery but not altogether unexpected hatred.  READ FULL ARTICLE

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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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2015 wasn’t a bad year, but I’m calling it a “bag” year.

What am I talking about?

Well, you know how sometimes movies just aren’t your bag? In an attempt to be a well-rounded cinema goer, I try to appreciate things that aren’t necessarily my bag. It’s one of the reasons that I do things like complete film lists, because then not only will it force me to confront things that aren’t my bag, it might also help me find new things that are my bag that I’d never have suspected were my bag. Most years I end up trying to catch up with some critical favorites which, on the surface, would seem not to be my bag. Sometimes I feel like I haven’t watched nearly enough movies to even have favorites. For example, what if instead of the ~60 new movies I saw this year, I had watched a different 60? That’s entirely possible. What if I have a bunch of favorite movies that I don’t know are my favorites because I never saw them?

Yet I feel like this year has been uncommonly predictable in the sense that I pretty much knew what I was going to like and dislike before I ever watched it. Most of the stuff that I thought would be my bag was my bag, and there weren’t a lot of surprises when I went looking for things that weren’t my bag. I mostly enjoyed movies from directors that I already favor (Baumbach, Tarantino, Villeneuve, Inarritu, Del Toro) and from genres that I favor (thriller, sci-fi), and disliked movies I didn’t expect to like (Jurassic World, Pixels). There were a couple of minor surprises – I liked Tomorrowland more than the consensus, didn’t love The Martian – but when I sought things a bit off the beaten path, like Tangerine or The Duke of Burgundy, none of it really made a big impression.

So while I’m pleased as punch to be a film aficionado right now, I can’t help but feel my own habits – and by extension, my year-end list – failed to capture the breadth of what filmmaking looked like this year. There’s no Holy Motors on my list, and no A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, no Sleepwalk with Me. It just feels like I didn’t see any stalwart indies or ambitious art films that I really fell in love with. Maybe that means I missed out. Or maybe it means mainstream movies were uncommonly good this year. I’d be more than happy to recommend Buzzard, for example, but to say I liked it better than any of the movies on this list would be dishonest – and there’d be no point in doing a personal list if it isn’t honest.

So with 2015 in the bag, here are the movies that are my bag this year:

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You read that right: top 15. I’m departing from my established pattern of doing an annual top 10. Part of me sees this as a failure of will, a refusal to make the hard choices. Maybe so. However, the prevailing thought in my mind is that although I am attempting to name my absolute favorite films of the year, the goal is less about canonization of well-respected movies than it is about the hope that the list might encourage someone to take a chance on a film they otherwise might not.

It was a good year for movies by my account. Godzilla returned to US multiplexes. Keanu Reeves got back into the action game with John Wick. We saw new films from auteurs such as David Fincher, Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, and Woody Allen. We saw exciting work from new and up-and-coming directors like Jennifer Kent, Damien Chazelle, Justin Simien, Dan Gilroy, Jeremy Saulnier, and Ana Lily Amirpour. We got two movies from Phil Lord and Chris Miller, both of which were anarchic fun. Reese Witherspoon was also in two movies and wasn’t awful in either of them. Even some of the usual superhero/blockbuster mish-mash was of an unusually high caliber (X-Men: Days of Future Past, Guardians of the Galaxy). Oh, and I think there was a movie by some guy named Christopher Nolan…

So in a year this crowded I feel a top 15 is the way to go. Let’s get at it, then, and may the hottest flicks rise to the top. Here are my picks for the best movies of 2014:

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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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2012movies

I saw 64 movies for 2013, more than any year in memory. A good year for it, too, since I enjoyed most of what I watched. The top 10 was harder to narrow than ever. I could have made a top 25 list and I would have felt good about every choice. Still, the value of such lists lies in their exclusivity, the ruthless paring down that forces only the exceptional to rise to the top. I’ll honor my runners-up below, but for now let’s cut right to it. Here are my favorite movies of 2013. READ FULL ARTICLE

Top 10 Films of 2012

2012movies

If 2011 was a disappointment, movie-wise, 2012 has more than made up for it. It’s been a great year in film, the best since 2007. That was the last time I remember seeing so many excellent titles over such a short period. And while I’ve seen a decent number of limited release, independent and art-house movies this year (though sadly few foreign ones), we’ve actually witnessed an unusual swath of quality in more popular flicks. Kicking off with the incredibly popular Avengers movie, 2012 saw the final chapter of Christopher Nolan’s beloved Batman trilogy, new and improved installments of the Men in Black and Alien franchises, an adaptation of a young adult novel that wasn’t terrible in The Hunger Games, one of the best James Bond movies in history, a cool original sci-fi time travel movie in Looper, and much more. That’s not to say that the festival favorites didn’t produce anything worthwhile either; between The Sessions, Headhunters, Robot & Frank, Killer Joe, Hitchcock, Bernie and more, there was plenty to savor just off the beaten path. Then when you add end-of-the-year awards contenders like Lincoln, Les Miserables, Silver Linings Playbook, and Zero Dark Thirty, you start to see the breadth of what was available on the big screen this year. 

I feel my list definitely reflects the emergence of these popular movies, but I also feel good about recommending everything that’s here. These are my favorite movies of 2012. READ FULL ARTICLE

Top 10 Films of 2011

Sometimes as a movie critic I begin to feel like Ralphie’s teacher from A Christmas Story. You remember her, right? She’s the one who – in Ralph’s fantasy sequence – hastily shuffles through an enormous stack of theme papers, becoming increasingly irritated that they all evidence fatal flaws. “You call this a paragraph?” she laments. “Margins!” The paper is stricken with an ‘F’ just like the ones before it. Disgusted with her students’ collective illiteracy, Miss Shields suddenly finds Ralphie’s paper in her hand. She stares spellbound at his exceptional composition. As his glowing descriptions of the perfect Christmas gift (a Red Ryder BB gun – with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time) leap from the page in glorious beams of inspiration, she is overwhelmed with joy. Her entire career in education is validated by having read this magnum opus, this stunning work of art. READ FULL ARTICLE