Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Beta's Top Ten Favorite Movies of 2019

Ten years ago today I started blogging after being inspired by the work of Rob Bricken on the website Topless Robot. The blog began partially as a companion piece to the Saturday Morning Cartoon Show on WDIR and partially to force me to write regularly in order to increase my confidence. While things hadn’t gone quite to plan, and my ability to maintain regular post articles is poor at best, I think it’s still worth celebrating the milestone.

Honestly I’m unsure I have it in me to keep the blog going in any meaningful way at this point in my life but, since 2020 is the ten year anniversary of me starting it, I figure I should try to do my best to put out the many articles I wanted to write but never found time to do it. After that…who knows?

But first, as per tradition, I’ll do my annual Top Ten Favorite Movie List. As always, this is a subjective list that represents the flicks I liked the best, not necessarily the best made. Also, as with last year, I’ll throw up some Panda Reviews scores as well.

But before we get into it, I thought it’d be fun to take a quick look at all the films that topped all previous Favorite Lists.

2010: Scott Pilgrim vs. The Word 
2011: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 
2012: Moonsrise Kingdom 
2013: The Wolf of Wall Street 
2014: The Lego Movie 
2015: The Martian 
2016: 10 Cloverfield Lane 
2017: Get Out 
2018: Black Panther 

 My favorite movies after the jump.

#10: Spider-Man: Far From Home
F**k yeah, Mysterio!

I didn’t like Spider-Man: Homecoming all that much. I thought it was interesting to re-work the Vulture from a vindictive old engineer to a grumpy blue collar criminal trying to provide for his family, but I simply did not enjoy it as much as seemingly everyone else. Its sequel, however, I thought was great! I thought the writing was better, I thought the teen/High School drama was less maddening, I thought it was funnier, and Mysterio is the best interpretation of a Spider-Man villain since Doctor Octopus in 2004’s Spider-Man 2.

 Also, it does a much better job at making MJ Michelle feel like an actual character instead of a morbid Greek chorus like she was in the last one. so I’m considerably more onboard with her than I was with its predecessor.

4 out of 5 Adorable Pandas

#9: Avengers: Endgame
So, when is Rocket getting his Disney+ spin-off?

I really liked
Avengers: Infinity War but its lack of proper ending is what kept it off my list last year. Avengers: Endgame not only had a very definitive ending, but also a mostly satisfying one. It also managed to be funnier and more tension filled than it had any right to be. It’s difficult to make a film that is the culmination of over ten years’ worth of movies and stick the landing but, as far as anything could, Endgame manages it. It was far from perfect, and I’m still annoyed about several characters' fates (I’m fine with Iron Man’s, though) but overall I dug it a lot.

4 out of 5 Adorable Pandas

#8: Hustlers 
Pictured: The best Scorsese-like movie of the year

I’m not going to lie and tell you that Hustlers reinvents the wheel here. Many people have called it “Goodfellas but with strippers” and there’s a lot of truth to that; it’s the “criminal tells the story of their rise and fall of their enterprise” tropee that that, say, The Wolf of Wall Street also did. But the idea of doing it with a cast of women was a rather brilliant call, as the motivations and struggles instantly become quite different from other movies like it. The characters also end up being inherently more likable as well as less sociopathic than in those other flicks. The real gems in this movie are another great leading performance for Constance Wu, who is slowly but style climbing her way up Holly’woods hierarchy, and a surprisingly fantastic performance from Jenifer Lopez. I probably shouldn’t have been surprised but I absolutely was.

4 out of 5 Adorable Pandas

#7: Booksmart 
Because "Suburb Smart" isn't as catchy

I wasn’t able to catch this until late in the year, long after it left theaters, but it was worth the wait. The directorial debut of Olivia Willde, Booksmart is, not unlike Hustlers, a familiar movie that is made novel by the fact that it stars women instead of men. A film about nerds trying to get to a party isn’t exactly new hat, and it’s kind of weird that Beanie Feldstein is staring in a movie extremely similarly to Superbad which stared her old brother Jonah Hill. However, Booksmart is has a hilarious and clever script, charming and likable leads, while also touching on modern tropes of concepts of not simply judging books by the cover and elitism, in a way that the older films would never have.

4 out of 5 Adorable Pandas

#6: The Farewell 
All these awards and fanfare and not a single damn Oscar nod

Awkwafina, like Constance WU, is an Asian-American actress who’s stock in Hollywood greatly increased with the unexpected success of 2018’s Crazy Rich Asians. But unlike Wu who has been acting for years and stared in a TV sitcom, Awkwafina had a more of an uphill battle to be taken seriously as an actress (transitioning from rapper/Youtube star). However she shut up any nay sayers with this movie. The Farewell is equal parts touching/sad and hilarious and Awkwafina ends up being the glue that makes it all work. If there is any great example of why diversity in movies is important, it’s this film. It  depicts the delicate, sometimes heartbreaking, balance of being American tied to a non-American culture. It was sort of in and out of theaters so if you missed this one you’d be doing yourself a favor by finding it now.

4 out of 5 Adorable Pandas

#5: Blinded By Light 
It would be the same movie if he discovered The Clash

This might be a surprising film on the list, but this flick really touched me in a way I wasn’t expecting. On the surface, this flick is about a British Pakistani teen writer getting really into Bruce Springsteen. However, I think of it as more a “Kid writer discovers music that alienates them from the norms of their culture,” which is basically my whole life story. I related to this movie in a way I almost never to. I even cried at the climax. I absolutely loved this flick even though I don’t think most people were that interested in it. As a black kid in Detroit who gravitated towards rock music and later punk rock when so many of the people in the black community flatly declared that I was betraying our culture, this movie made me feel seen.

4 out of 5 Adorable Pandas

#4: Ready or Not 
Can't wait for the sequel "Patty Cake"

“Let’s make a horror movie about the game of hide & seek” is not the goofiest premise for a flick we’ve seen in recent decades, but I could see how it could make some folks roll their eyes. Jokes on them because Ready or Not, a throwback to off-kilter campy horror flicks of old, was one of the best times to be had at the movies in 2019. Clever, funny, brutal, and extremely self-aware, this flick has more in common with the likes of Cabin in the Woods and You’re Next than more traditional horror flicks. It’s takes a familiar trope and plays around with it while never forgetting the silliness of its premise; that’s a tough balance to maintain but they manage to do it here. If you’re not adverse to gore I’d recommend this to to anyone. More people needed to watch this movie.

4 out of 5 Adorable Pandas

#3: Us
Not to be confused with "This is US", which is slightly less creepy

It’s unusual for me to have multiple horror films in one year on these lists, but I could not refuse the disturbing thrill ride that was Us. This was, of course, Jordan Peele’s follow up to the out of nowhere Get Out from 2018 and while it’s not quite on the same level as its predecessor, Us is likely far more disturbing and potentially more cerebral, warranting at least two viewings. The most important thing about this flick is the absolutely stupendous performance by Lupita Nyong'o, who should goddamn be nominated for a goddamn Oscar as this may well have been the best performance of the year OOPS I GUESS NOT, THANKS FOR NOTHING HOLLYWOOD!!!!

4 out of 5 Adorable Pandas

#2: Knives Out
This movie helped heal my heart from the pain of "Sorry to Bother You"

I feel like I waited for this to come out for a very long time. Knives Out is a type of movie that the less I say about it the better since it’s a mystery “whodunit” flick and I don’t want to give away too much. But Rian Johnson is a fantastic director who’s gimmick seems to be taking a recognized genre/trope and subverting expectations, things that he did in both Looper and The Last Jedi. This movie is another triumph for Johnson, as it’s a delightful romp from start to finish that keeps the audience guessing, even when we assumed we had all the answers. 

5 out of 5 Adorable Pandas

#1: Jojo Rabbit
The first satire of Nazi Germany in cinematic history!*
*According to people who don't know what satire is

I don’t know if I understand exactly why this movie was so controversial. It is satire that seems to say that the Nazi standard was laughably immature, crazy, and fundamentally doomed to fail, which on paper is a thumbs up from most people. As a film, Jojo Rabbit is fantastic, managing to be both a hilarious comedy at some moments and a being tension filled thriller at others, all through the eyes of a young, na├»ve boy who has put his faith in the hands of the wrong masters. In the hands of a lesser director this movie would have been an utter mess, but in the hands of Taika Waititi it ended up being this bizarre success. If you missed this one I think you should give it a try. 

And, yes, Scarlett Johansson is very good in this movie. Maybe she can play that tree after all…

5 out of 5 Adorable Pandas

Well, that's it for the movies of 2019. I cannot promise that we'll do this again next year, bu let's take solace in the act of going to the movies is still pretty much the best thing in the world!

That said, do we really need yet another Ghostbusters reboot?

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