Short intro, I wanted to do reviews on a ton of these throughout the year, but got a little busy with life. So here’s my thoughts on 21 films, probably with typos somewhere, I hadn’t more than Tweeted about if I did so far this year. There's probably spoilers, so here's your warning. If you’re interested in my Top Films of 2019 or Top Films of the Decade, head over to those links! Thanks for reading and hope you’re having a good holiday season and have a great start to the new year!
Fighting With My Family
Wrestling has been a part of my life since I started watching around Wrestlemania 19. It’s been both a blessing and a curse watching pro wrestling over the years. There’s been highs like watching CM Punk and Daniel Bryan in the WWE in the first half of the 2010s, watching All Elite wrestling start up and getting into New Japan Pro Wrestling over the past half decade. There’s also been lows, like pretty much everything WWE has done, aside from NXT, over the past almost four years. “Fighting With My Family” follows the story of real life WWE star Paige, played by Florence Pugh, and how she broke into the company. This was in the works, with help from The Rock, I presume after she retired, and I'm sure it’s embellished at parts. Pugh was great as Paige and had great screen presence. The family dynamic of the Knight’s are the best part of the film, because Lena Headey and Nick Frost are great as Paige’s parents Julia and Patrick. Her brother Zak, played by Jack Lowden was good as well. My problems come with the mostly glossed over time in NXT, where she exploded in popularity and it felt rushed by the end of the film. If you’re not a wrestling fan, this movie probably won’t work as well, but if you’re a fan of wrestling, there’s a lot to like.
As someone about to turn 30 and born in 1990, I remember when Pokemania swept the US originally as a kiddo. I had Red Version, my dad and I collected the trading cards, I watched the anime after school, and even all these years later, I can’t let Pokemon go as I’m breeding competitive Pokemon in Sword and Shield. “Detective Pikachu” is the first live action Pokemon film and after seeing it twice, it kind-of loses its luster after your first viewing. The voice acting by Ryan Reynolds as Pikachu was fine, but the rest of the movie seems like a Pokemon nostalgia bomb rather than a coherent story. Not to mention the acting was pretty sub par even when Reynolds’ Pikachu is there. This is loosely based off a Nintendo 3DS game of the same name, and it doesn’t really feel like it has a narrative like the game. The CGI and more realistic Pokemon coming to life on the big screen were great to see, but ultimately, if you’re not a fan of Pokemon this doesn’t offer much to you.
Aladdin / The Lion King
It doesn’t really matter which we start with, but I’ll concede that The Lion King was better than Aladdin. “Aladdin” was doomed because of Robin Williams original performance, it took the original to the next level. He was allowed to ad lib and Disney would animate things he did after. Will Smith followed a weak, severely changed script to the tee, that was made worse with poorly arranged songs, and no offense to Mr. Smith and crew, poorly sung sung songs as well. The two leads acting was very bad and the new song added was pretty awful too. The CGI was also bad as well. In “The Lion King” it wasn’t changed like Aladdin was. It was pretty much a CGI shot for shot of the original. The CGI looked good, the voice acting was alright all around, the music was pretty decent, but the changes made to some of the songs and the lack of emotions by the “realistic” CGI made everything feel hollow. Also the new song added to this felt forced and I wasn’t a fan of it either. As someone who grew up with the original animated Lion King and Aladdin, I went into these films with an open mind and came out of them shaking my head and/or wondering why these were made. I mean I know why, money, but there’s no way Disney is actually out of ideas right? My summary of both of these just end up being, “Who are these made for?” Because people like me who grew up with the originals know they’re better and the kids seeing these are probably going to like them less as well, because they’re lesser quality.
Booksmart / Good Boys
“Booksmart” wanted to be this generation's “Superbad.” “Good Boys” ended up being the middle school version of “Superbad.” These films are pretty much the carbon copy of raunchy coming of age films, one set of kids heading for high-school and one set of teens heading for college. Both have probably far too smart and quippy parents and both get into a situation that has likely never happened to the majority of kids in school currently. Though I think they both did a good job of being somewhat realistic with the plot devices. My problem with “Booksmart” is, I just didn’t relate to it like I did with “Superbad” growing up or even to an extent “Good Boys” here. The acting was fine in both films, though nothing stands out overall. I found myself laughing more with “Good Boys” than I did with “Booksmart” though. “Booksmart” seemed like it was trying to be more serious, which a film branded as raunchy comedy doesn’t need to be. Where “Good Boys ” was always absurd, and while the jokes didn’t always land, there were plenty and quite a lot will probably land for you. If you liked “Superbad” growing up, chances are you’ll like one of these. Did you follow all that?
The Beach Bum
I almost don’t want to review “The Beach Bum” because it’s just an experience you need to just go in and watch. A soon to be pattern in this post. It’s a haphazard story, led by a brilliant performance from Matthew McConaughey as Moondog. A man who is the embodiment of “go with the flow,” though it doesn’t always flow well. My only real complaint is the length of the film, because I felt that some scenes went on longer than needed and the aforementioned all over the place story. The style is undeniable, if you liked “Spring Breakers” (which I actually didn’t), you’ll love this film and the acting from McConaughey is enough to keep you invested in whatever of the story you can decipher.
Spider-Man: Far From Home
If “Booksmart” and “Good Boys” were comedic coming of age films, then “Spider-Man Far From Home” is the 2019 comic book equivalent.Not quite as good as “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and coming off of the “Avengers: End Game” finale, “Far From Home” is a fun little movie that adds just enough to the Spider-Man Marvel Cinematic Universe lore to keep the films swinging. The story follows Peter Parker and the crew from “Homecoming” and they go abroad in Europe with their schoolmates. The story is decent enough, the CGI was fine and the acting from the main cast is good like in the first film. The performance from Jake Gyllenhaal as Mysterio was awesome. It’s one of the best villain performances in the MCU, and took the movie up a notch, even though the end result of his plot was kind of bland. If you like Spider-Man or the MCU, this will wet your appetite.
Toy Story 4
I went into “Toy Story 4” not expecting much and I came out of it pleasantly surprised. It’s not the best Toy Story film, it’s probably the worst of the series. But it’s still very watchable. The animation, which straight up just looks like they were just filming a movie without CGI at times, is amazing. The characters were all the same, though most of the old guard really felt like they were on the back burner for most of the film. The voice acting was good as usual as well and the humor was fun. I just don’t really have anything I feel overly good or bad about this film.
Midsommar is a beautifully shot film that’s the equivalent of what the film ends up being about. A bunch of modern day hippies in Europe, tripping on hippie juice, while WWE superstar Paige becomes their qween. This film is gorgeous to look at with the landscapes of the small town they’re in. It’s also brutal, because there’s no holding back the way people die or how they end up. The acting is alright, the people in the commune are sufficiently creepy, while the students abroad range from wholly annoying all the way to “I don’t hate this character.” I did like Florence Pugh this. Some of this could be the writing too, as I didn’t enjoy this story as much as I did Ari Aster other feature “Hereditary.” This is the perfect film to grab some friends and just experience and joke around.
The Art of Self-Defense
“The Art of Self Defense” is a dark comedy that follows a man who was recently mugged and put in the hospital. After he gets out he decided to learn self defense. If you’re into films like “Napoleon Dynamite” or “Fight Club” then this mishmash of styles will be right up your alley. Jesse Esienberg and Alessandro Nivola are the perfect compliment to each other in this film. They’re the perfect amount of awkward and teacher/student dynamic. This film is a smaller feeling film than almost anything you'll see this year, aside from “The Lighthouse.” The humor is as dry as it comes, the story isn't just “random so it’s funny.” Not to mention Imogen Poots is a cutie.
The most polarizing film of the year until “Star War: The Rise of Skywalker” released last week was Todd Philip’s take on the origin of the iconic Batman villain “Joker.” The media blitz tried to convince people it was a movie that would rile up the masses. It didn’t. People tried to pigeonhole it into only a group of people “getting it.” That didn’t work either because it became the highest grossing R-Rated film of all time, surpassing “Deadpool” with a relatively decent critical reception. “Joker” is a tense film, that without yet another Joaquin Phoenix masterful performance would likely be worse than it ended up being. There are other characters, but they’re all plot devices. Not bad by any stretch, but no one really outstanding. The story was fine, a younger man, beaten down by life and finally having enough. The message was ham-fisted, but it worked in the context of Joker’s character being over the top. The cinematography was also surprisingly pleasant throughout the film. The copious wide shots of the dreary city and the now infamous staircase just looked good. This is a tense film from start to finish with a fantastic performance that’s made this film worth your time.
Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood
There were a lot of films that came out this year that left me with that feeling of watching a movie, not just watching a blitz of colors and sounds. “Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood” is my personal favorite of the year. Quentin Tarantino crafted an alternate reality, but one that isn’t so out of the realm of possibility of occurring. Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie played the best lead trio this year. After the film released, I noticed people asking why Robbie was a lead, because of her least amount of screen time of the three. While DiCaprio and Pitt more or less have full story arcs, Robbie plays as the letting you breathe in between scenes. These breathers were lovely. The story was solid, mostly coming to terms with fading out what you used to be. The acting, especially by DiCaprio and Pitt, was outstanding. The music, especially in the driving scenes, was impeccable. Finally, the cinematography and set design was amazing, like near the end when all the stores were turning on their neon lights and signs for the night. And yes, there is a scene of copious violence like in all Tarantino films.
If you had asked me what I thought one of the worst movies of the year was gonna be based off of trailers I saw while at the movies or watching wrestling or football, I would’ve told you “The Hustler” before watching it. A Jennifer Lopez led film about a bunch of dancers sticking it to the man by taking their money in illicit ways. And while the plot is thin, it’s a movie that is well acted, especially by Lopez and her co-star Constance Wu. There is a lot of little things like framing, settings for scenes (though it gets repetitive at times) and the backstory that goes into the characters that make this a pretty interesting watch.
Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker
I could go into how this film is rushed, and it is. I could go into how there’s about 400 different expanded universe books that could be made of the plots ran through in this film. I could go into how they had to retcon a metric ton of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” to try to appease the fans that hated “The Last Jedi.” Only to make the people who liked “The Last Jedi” mad at this one. I could go into somehow Rey just having the ability to Jesus heal people out of nowhere, because why not? I could go into how they reduced Fin to a character with a ton of potential in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” to someone who said multiple times in this they had something to tell Rey, only to never do it. I could go into the fact that Rey being a Palpatine, while in theory cool, but instead coming out of nowhere, comes off as a desperate plea that Disney’s Star Wars wasn’t out of ideas. I could be going into many more things like that, like the waste of the actually great chemistry between Daisy Ridley, John Boyeyga and Oscar Issac, or the fact they they introduced a ton of new characters during the last film of a trilogy. I know they had to include Carrie Fisher, but the de-aged Carrie Fisher from the training scene looked just as bad as from “Rogue One.” I loved that Harrsion Ford looked like he rolled out of bed for his scene with Driver (which was nice scene.) BUT despite all that, I had fun watching the movie. It felt like a Star Wars film to me. Far, far from perfect, but they did enough things right, like superb acting from Adam Driver throughout the trilogy, continuing to here. Fin and Poe weren’t as useless like in TLJ. Rey is Rey at this point, and her stuff with Kylo was the best stuff in the film. The action was fine, sometimes, and I wasn’t a huge fan of the busy space battle at the end. But for the most part with all the rush and confusion of this film, I enjoyed it much, much more than I thought I would.
If “Midsommar” was brutal in a more drug induced fever-dream way, “The Nightingale” is brutal in a more realistic “Jesus, this is gonna be hard to watch for people” way. “The Nightingale” follows the story of Clare Carroll who has her life ripped from her and feels she must exact revenge on the people who took it from her. This film is set in the 1820s in England during the Black War and spares nothing from the viewer. The way Calre, played wonderfully by Aisling Franciosi, and her travel mate played by Baykali Ganambarr are treated and spoken to. The harsh reality of traveling through a country you’re not wanted in. To even just surviving out in the wilderness with only the thought of revenge on your mind. This film is a pretty unflinching look at the lengths people can and would go to when they, quite honestly, have nothing left to lose and the hope that can blossom amidst all of it. If you’re a fan of “The Witch” from a few years ago, you’ll like this.
Netflix put out actual quality films this year. Somehow The Office machine got Martin Scorsese to stop trashing superhero films long enough to create this mobster epic and release it on their streaming service. This film truly “an epic” because of the supremely crafted story that spanned over three hours long. The story of a World War II vet, Frank Shareen, turned mafia, turned Jimmy Hoffa’s right hand man is wonderfully acted by Robert Di Nero, Al Pachino and legend himself, Joe Pesci. The story that unfolds is a mobster drama, at times a family drama, with bits of humor and brevity thrown in as well. A complete film in almost every way, but for some reason I feel that it didn’t click, and I think it mostly has to do with how the film was presented. These guys no doubt, gave some of the finest performances of the year, but it’s hard to ignore that in the time frame these events were happening. These guys were younger in this story that spanned decades and decades, and needed to look the part. But for a lot of the film, when say, Di Nero’s character was supposed to be in his 40s or so, Di Nero never really looked younger than being in his 60s even with the de-aging. It took me out of the film at times. Not to mention there’s parts in the early going, like the bakery fight, that were laughably bad. This film is very very good, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not without it faults, and if you’re into mobster films, you’ll love this.
The film from the man that brought us “Thor Ragnarok” comes “Jojo Rabbit,” a movie that tells the story of a boy in Nazi Germany who has Adolf Hitler as his imaginary friend and a mother who thinks war is senseless is hiding a Jewish girl in their home. This film one that hooks you from the cold open of Jojo conversing with Adolf. The film is irreverent, but tasteful. I never thought it was making light of the terrible things the Nazis did. Instead it poked fun at how they thought about things and how they went about things in laugh out loud ways. Scarlett Johansson, Thomasin McKenzie, Sam Rockwall and Taika Waititi (the director playing Hitler) were all sublime. They were anchored by the performance of Roman Griffin Davis as Jojo, who is funny, charming and above all earnest in how he begins to learn how the world is actually working vs the romanticized version he’s been taught. This film isn’t going to be for everyone, but the ones that keep an open mind and give this a try will be treated to a delightful story and growing up and being able to see that what you think you know, may not be what reality is.
I wish Rain Johnson had turned “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” into a murder mystery like this, I would’ve liked it about a thousand times more. “Knives Out” works because you know, or at least think you know, what happens throughout the entirety of the film. You change your thought process as new things are presented, that lets you try and guess where everything is heading. The performance from Ana de Armas was amazing. Between her and Daniel Craig, reminding us that he’s pretty good at what he does outside of 007, the film never skips a beat. Chris Evans post Captain America role is great and the rest of the family at the center of this mystery are absolutely awful people you want to see lose. Mothers, daughters, cousins and uncles are all just terrible to everyone, which makes de Armas’ character such a pleasant one in this film. Piecing together this irreverent version of Clue was a blast, and the witty writing (sometimes kind of off putting I’ll admit) make this the perfect film if you just want to veg out and have a good time. Side note, Lakeith Stanfield is becoming one of my favorite Hollywood people.
It’s hard to write anything about this film, because it just needs to be watched. This Korean film by filmmaker Bong Joon-ho was unlike anything I watched this year and it will keep you fully invested until the credits roll. To give a brief summary, a down on their luck family, who will do anything to survive and make ends meet, stumble across something that could get them out of the basement apartment they live in. The acting, from literally everyone is a treat, because everyone was a different role to play. Each person in the main family, especially Song Kang-ho and Choi Woo-shik, the father and son, play both sides of their role superbly. While on the other side of things, Lee Sun-kyun as Park Dong-ik and Cho Yeo-jeong, husband and wife, make a delightful on-screen pairing as well. The story is engaging until the very end and is a roller-coaster of humor, drama and character development. Everything about this film just works and it blew me away when I first watched it.
You want a story about emotions. You want a film with acting. You want a film that would make you rethink falling in love, having kids, managing a work/life schedule and doing anything remotely successful in your life while married, then “Marriage Story” is right up your alley. Superbly acted by its two leads Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, this film follows the story of Kylo Ren and Black Widow as they begin the process of divorce and all of the bad that eventually comes with it. Their friendships fracture, the relationship between Charlie and his son deteriorates, just when they think everything will be applicable, both lawyer up at the behest of lawyers, money problems galore begin on Charlie’s side, while Nicole has to start coming to terms that she might not be as good a mother as she could be while chasing the dream of acting. This film is not about two people falling out of love, because the note being read at the beginning and end of the film prove that. This film is about two people, who want to move on from each other the right way, get roped into doing it the messy way and have to deal with the reality and emotions that come with it. Oh yeah, Netflix of all places put this out. I’m amazed too.