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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top10_2018

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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15of16

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 ABCs of Death 2 (2014)
Director: Kimo Stamboel, Timo Tjahjanto
Starring: Oka Antara, Kazuki Kitamura, Rin Takanashi
Running Time: 2 hrs, 17 mins
Unrated


Review by Daniel Stidham

Killers, a new crime drama from Timo Tjahjanto and Kimo Stamboel (otherwise known as The Mo Brothers) follows two men – one in Tokyo and the other in Jakarta – who commit murder to film, uploading their victims’ final moments to the internet to the delight of onlookers. The image of a dying person’s face on a computer screen, coldly flanked by a stream of anonymous commenters, is the kind of bitter juxtaposition that the film likes to play with. A movie about snuff film can hardly escape engaging in some meta-commentary about our fascination with death and violence, a subject with a long cinematic history. Yet Killers is hardly the Mo Brothers’ attempt at Funny Games. Stylistically it follows in the footsteps of ultra-violent Asian crime thrillers like I Saw the Devil, though at some points it has more in common with movies like Saw or Untraceable – at least it recalls such flicks in its opening scene where a masked man kills a young woman on camera.

Departed-style, we have twin protagonists (if you can call them that) in Bayu and Nomura. Nomura (Kazuki Kitamura) is a stylish, single Japanese man, a sociopath and amateur murder enthusiast. Bayu (Oka Antara) is a frustrated journalist and family man with a daughter and estranged wife and a score to settle with a powerful Indonesian businessman. Though different sorts of people, they meet via chat room and develop the kind of uneasy relationship that I would assume comes with knowing your new friend is an amoral monster. Bayu experiences an “attraction of repulsion” to Nomura’s snuff films. He likes to ceremoniously slam his laptop shut in disgust, but he also finds himself awakening to his own latent bloodlust.

Read the full review on CutPrintFilm.com

Dying of the Light (2014)
Director: Paul Schrader
Starring: Nicholas Cage, Anton Yelchin, Alexander Karim
Running Time: 1 hr, 34 mins
Rated: R


Review by Daniel Stidham

Early in Dying of the Light, the camera zooms in on a man’s hand which then begins to tremble uncontrollably. The hand belongs to Nicolas Cage, and this shot is the first best hope we have that the film we’re watching will be worthwhile. Though Cage has a notoriously uneven track record, many of his highest highs involve him playing disturbed, afflicted, or deeply neurotic characters. Leading Man Cage, National Treasure Cage, is fine as far as he goes; but what you really want is Matchstick Men Cage, Bad Lieutenant Cage. You want the guy who has unpredictable freak-outs, manic ticks and ridiculous hair. Sometimes it’s a thin line that separates “I want to take his face…off!” from “No, not the bees,” but we’re willing to take that risk because when it works it pays off big time; and for at least a few minutes of Dying of the Light, it looks as though we’re about to be treated to the next entry in the “Nicolas Cage Losing His Shit” canon.

Read the full review on CutPrintFilm.com

non-stop-poster Non-Stop (2014)
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Starring: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery
Running Time: 1 hr, 46 mins
Rated: PG-13


Review by Brother Reed

What about Non-Stop, though?

Non-Stop may have had the most effective advertising of any movie in recent memory. That Key and Peele tie-in sketch, for all its transparency, completely cemented the title of the movie in my consciousness. Now I haven’t actually loved any of these Liam Neeson tough guy movies, though I thought Taken was alright. Unknown and A-Team were completely forgettable. Still, there isn’t a lot of competition right now so I went out to see the conspicuously hyphenated Non-Stop, featuring the incomparable Liam Neesons. READ FULL REVIEW

The Wolfman (2010)
Director: Joe Johnston
Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt
Running Time: 1 hr, 59 min (Director’s Cut)
Rated: R (Unrated)

 


Review by Brother Reed

Hollywood cries “wolf.” I cry “remake.” Audiences just cry.

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Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Brad Pitt, Mélanie Laurent, Christoph Waltz

Running Time: 2 hrs, 33 min
Rated: R


Review by Brother Reed

Can a movie change the world? Quentin Tarantino says “yes” with Inglourious Basterds, a triumphant piece of pure, grade-A cinema. This latest achievement is pumped full of thrills, uneasy chuckles and agonizing suspense. Literate, brazen and unconventional, it’s the film Tarantino has been working on for the better part of a decade and the wait has paid off. Like all his movies, Basterds is – at least in part – about film itself, as the writer/director is notorious for homages to his favorite genres. To say too much would be to ruin the story for those who haven’t heard, but suffice to say that one movie quite literally alters the course of history. READ FULL REVIEW

The Hurt Locker (2008)
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty
Running Time: 2 hrs, 11 min
Rated: R


Review by Brother Reed

“War is a drug.” That pull quote from journalist Chris Hedges sets the tone for The Hurt Locker, a supremely suspenseful war thriller set just a few years ago during the Iraq conflict. It’s a sentiment that takes a moment to settle – one usually hears the more familiar “War is hell.” In truth, both statements are illustrated to some extent in this movie; but the former may be the more unsettling. We often imagine soldiers as men and women who carry out their tasks with bravery and skill but who ultimately wish only to return to their families and remove themselves from the constant danger they experience on foreign war grounds. While there are plenty of career military personnel who rise through the ranks, we start to worry about a field operative who enjoys his job a little too much. READ FULL REVIEW

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Director: John Frankenheimer
Starring: Frank Sinatra, Lawrence Harvey, Angela Lansbury
Running Time: 2 hrs, 6 min
Rated: PG-13


Review by Brother Reed

The Manchurian Candidate has often been called a great film. It’s achieved the status of “classic” in recent days and I assume this is because it is an influential thriller with a star-studded cast. At the time of its release it fed into the political paranoia of the Cold War. Between Communist threats, political conspiracy, and assassination, many relevant ideas are played with in the movie – relevant, that is, in 1962. If you are politically-minded or very interested in the McCarthy era this film is likely to be a greater treasure to you than to others. A few of the movie’s themes are still applicable, as there is always some new foreign threat or political unrest. Conspiracy theorists are probably as numerous today as they were then. Yet when I view this movie, there seems to me very little urgency. Unlike some viewers, I get little sense that this movie speaks to the world today. Perhaps this is because I don’t readily entertain far-fetched espionage plots, or because I have relatively little interest in politics and right-wing/left-wing bickering (though I’m not above tossing out the occasional zinger about the powers that be). READ FULL REVIEW