Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Top 10 Films of 2019 (so far)

We’re halfway through 2019, and while I haven’t seen everything, I mostly feel good about what I have seen, and I’m excited for what’s to come. Feel free to share your favorites so far this year as well!

Best TV of 2019 (so far)
Barry: Season 2 Episode 5, “ronny/lily” (HBO)
This hilarious, violent, absurd bottle episode is proof that Barry is one of the best shows on TV. “ronny/lily” is as perfect a half hour of television as I’m going to see this year.

Chernobyl (HBO)
Chernobyl certainly wasn’t easy (I won’t be revisiting episode four anytime soon), but the show’s final episode reached a pragmatic and emotional conclusion that was spellbinding. The simple way the actors explained the complex tragedy was incredible. And Jared Harris and Stellan Skarsgård’s final scene together felt like Brando and Clift talking on a bench.

Deadwood: The Movie (HBO)
Deadwood, rather infamously, never received a proper conclusion. After getting into a pissing match with the show’s creator, David Milch, HBO cancelled Deadwood after its third season. But 13 years later, everyone put their differences aside and delivered a perfect, 110-minute conclusion to a modern TV classic. This film is an absolute masterclass in storytelling; and with Milch recently announcing his Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Deadwood: The Movie may be the swan song of one of television’s most influential voices.

The OA: Season 2 (Netflix)
I love that Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij have been able to carve out a little piece of Hollywood for themselves. They’ve made what they want to make, the way they want to make it. And that creative freedom has generated The OA, one of the strangest, most tonally confident TV series I’ve seen. Season 1 introduced us to the multi-dimensional universe of the show, but Season 2 broke the whole thing wide open. I’ve never seen a show or film quite like this, and I’ve been in love with every second of it.

Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes (Netflix)
Most all serial killers (and psychopaths in general) have at least one inciting incident in their formative years that triggers their madness later in life. Sexual assault, emotional and/or physical abuse, gross paternal negligence – these are a few things that can prompt a psychopathic brain to “flip” later in life. And in all my time studying psychology, Ted Bundy is the only serial killer I’ve heard of that did not go through something damaging as a child. What this means is that we have virtually no insight into why Bundy was the way he was. But this documentary series does a damn fine job of trying to figure that out.

Honorable Film Mentions
Godzilla: King of the Monsters
Because sometimes you find yourself free on a Friday morning at 9:45 a.m., and you think it couldn’t hurt to waste some time watching a monsters-fighting-monsters movie in IMAX. I had fun with this flick; no harm, no foul, just dumb summer blockbuster fun.

John Wick 3
This series does not falter. If you accept the world of John Wick, then all that’s left to do is simply sit back and marvel. Plus, death by library book is one of the more inventive kills I’ve seen in a recent movie.

Knife + Heart
Yann Gonzalez’s provocative giallo headtrip of a film has been justly fast tracked to cult status. And while I think Gonzalez’s first feature, You and the Night, is the more accomplished film, I cannot wait to see what he makes next. And if every Gonzalez film is accompanied by a new M83 score (Yann’s brother, Anthony, is M83’s frontman), then I’ll always be game for Gonzalez’s work.

Long Day’s Journey Into Night
To be fair, I need to see this film again, because I missed a lot of what the movie was saying, choosing instead to focus on the astounding 59-minute single shot that closes the film. Is it okay that a shot this well executed actually took me out of the movie? Was that its intention?

Long Shot
What can I say, I enjoyed Long Shot. Of course it was ridiculous, but its at-times subtle humor (Seth Rogen emptying his pockets for a security guard, and Rogen finding a man at a party dressed exactly like him are two of the funniest scenes of 2019), fresh music choices, and strong performances helped set this one aside.

Top 10 Films of 2019 (so far)
10. Dragged Across Concrete
I love movies that make room for time. I love being given a little insight into how something is done – what that task requires, how long it takes, etc. If it’s appropriate, I love when a film takes the time to clue us into things that most movies skip over. Dragged Across Concrete is such a film (see the extended Jennifer Carpenter sequence for evidence), and I was on board for most all of it.

9. Little Woods
Little Woods is the type of home-grown, low-crime indie thriller that I love. It also features Tessa Thompson’s best performance to date, as a woman desperately trying to survive her last eight days of probation, despite financially illegal temptations that surround her. Movies like Little Woods don’t get enough attention these days, so do seek it out if you can.

8. Booksmart
Booksmart hits damn near all of the right notes. Its progressive approach is never preachy, thanks largely to a script that avoids clichés, and a crop of fresh actors who deliver great performances. Although I am still a bit baffled by how this film was distributed. Sure, it has grossed far more than its production budget, but a movie the size of Booksmart should never be dumped in 2,500 theaters in one weekend. If the studio had slowly rolled Booksmart out, and let word of mouth build up, then the film could’ve been as successful as Lady Bird.

7. American Woman
American Woman stars Sienna Miller as a relentlessly grief-stricken mother of a missing child, and in the film, Miller gives the best acting performance of the year for me so far. I fear that American Woman will be too small to be remembered come awards time, and that’s a shame, because this film is a huge announcement for Sienna Miller, and people should be paying attention.

6. Apollo 11
The full power of Apollo 11 extends beyond its breathtaking 70mm footage. This is a movie that puts us in a time and place so effortlessly, we can’t help but feel like we’re there. A perfect documentary to commemorate the 50th anniversary of one of America’s finest hours.

5. The Beach Bum
Does anyone have any real insight into what it all means and where it all goes? Hell, let’s ask Moondog (Matthew McConaughey), the aimless, warrior hero stoner poet in Harmony Korine’s The Beach Bum. This film exists to showcase a time (now) and a place (coastal Florida) through the eyes of a man unfazed by conventional wisdom and practical living. The Beach Bum is a fascinating film, one only Korine could make. It’s lack of plot makes the film appear to be lifeless, but when you dig deeper, you’re harder to find a movie in 2019 more full of life than this one.

4. Her Smell
Her Smell spends five scenes showcasing the manic career of a volatile punk rocker (played by Elisabeth Moss), and the first two scenes are so long and unrelenting, that I nearly gave up. But then something clicked, and I remembered that this was how I felt watching A Woman Under the Influence for the first time. Like John Cassavetes, writer/director Alex Ross Perry only lets us breathe when he wants us to. Her Smell is uncompromising in its vision, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since first watching it.

3. Under the Silver Lake
I can’t say I fully enjoyed my initial viewing of Under the Silver Lake. The film starts off so strong, and then meanders aimlessly in its second half. But after some consideration, I realized this is precisely what writer/director David Robert Mitchell intended to do with his film. Similar to the conspiracy theories the film’s characters obsess over, Under the Silver Lake walks down dark paths without concern as to where those paths will lead. Not every direction we decide to take in life ultimately pays off. We’re led astray, we’re let down, and we’re left to deal. The purposeful purposelessness of this film is hypnotic.

2. High Flying Bird
Why aren’t more people talking about High Flying Bird? It is Steven Soderbergh’s latest iPhone-shot feature film, its script was written by Moonlight scribe Tarell Alvin McCraney, the acting is universally flawless, and the film is widely available on Netflix. If nothing else, High Flying Bird proves that filmmakers no longer have technical limitations. Many of us are walking around with 4K cameras in our pockets, and our computers come pre-loaded with basic editing software. Begin. Today.

1. Climax
I mean this with respect to the other films listed here, but no other movie so far in 2019 comes close to matching the visceral power of Gaspar Noé’s Climax. The film does not have a shred of plot, instead playing out like a filmed psychological drug-testing experiment, but its confident aesthetics are imprinted on my mind. It looks like we have a pretty stacked six months of movies ahead of us (Tarantino, Malick, Scorsese, Linklater) and I can’t wait to see where Climax eventually ranks in the fold.

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  1. I dig your interpretation of Silver Lake but I'm not convinced. I have a soft spot for shambolic L.A. noirs. The Big Lebowski and The Long Goodbye are all-time favorites and Inherent Vice came pretty darn close to that level. More recently, Aaron Katz's Gemini captured a similar tone with a mostly female cast. A film about shallow or shiftless people need not itself be shallow and shiftless, though. Each of those films had a point of view about the world being depicted. The filmmakers had something to say and they found artful ways to say it.

    I'm absolutely certain Mitchell had things to say about toxic masculinity and conspicuous consumption and youth culture circa 2018 but he failed (in my mind) to deliver any kind of coherent message. To me, the script fell into the trap of "and then" plotting. We're shown an angry, shiftless wastrel being angry and shiftless for nearly two and a half hours. (SPOILERS) And then the grand conspiracy is revealed. And then my early suspicion about the protagonist being the dog killer is kinda confirmed. And then exactly what I thought would happen, the wastrel gets evicted after doddering around L.A., happens.

    The overriding theme seems to be that shitty things happen to shitty people. I'm not saying that isn't a worthwhile message. The Coen Brothers revisit that theme (among others) time and again... but their movies work on multiple levels whereas Silver Lake felt like an entirely surface level thing, and a fairly glib thing at that. It's also a showcase for the problem of irony. There's a very real risk of becoming the thing you're attempting to send up. I doubt Mitchell is a misogynist (at least not any more than the background level of sexism that pervades our culture) but he didn't even try to write a single realistic female character. I'm sure that was part of his point. We're stuck in the protagonist's twisted head. But even then, he doesn't fully commit to that decision and we're left with some pretty disgusting and pointless depictions of women.

    I wasn't expecting to go on a tangent. This movie rubbed me all kinds of wrong, which was surprising given the excellence of Mitchell's last film. Harumph!

    This year has been kinda quiet and unfulfilling in terms of moviegoing. My favorite films were mostly holdovers from the 2018 festival circuit: Amazing Grace, Birds of Passage, Cold War, The Guilty. I appreciated Dragged Across Concrete for its ambition but thought the politics of it felt heavy handed and undermined the human relationships being depicted.

    1. I hear you on this. I think because the film is ranked 3rd here, it suggests that I liked it a lot more than I did, when really, its ranking is a reflection of how few solid films we've had so far this year.

      I did enjoy the movie (not as I was watching it, my appreciation formed later) but I also can't disagree with anything you said. I think everything in the movie is hyper-intentional, and it's up to the audience to decide if they want to go on the ride or not. I definitely think it could've been 20 minutes shorter (at least), but all told, I was okay with it. Don't imagine I'll have a need to revisit it soon though.

      Personally, it also helps that I am very good friends with a guy who is almost a mirror image of Garfield's character. It's shocking. Minus the chain smoking, my friend is that guy, and he is obsessed with this movie, because he feels like someone finally made a movie about his personality type. So, I dunno, I guess I have a slight personal connection to it as well.

    2. Your last graf was kinda funny: I know someone just like that who really loves the movie and has nudged me to revisit it. He's not a perfect mirror image but I definitely see parallels that drew him to the film. That's not such a terrible thing, I suppose. There are certainly films I adore for deeply personal reasons regardless of their aesthetic or thematic value.

    3. Yeah exactly. It kind of gives the movie a fun little edge. I honestly don't think that movie will stick around with me for very long, but for the purpose of this list, it fit in rather well.

  2. Based on my list of today, I haven't really seen much mainly due to events beyond my control as I don't think I'm going to see a lot of films right now.

    1. Oh man, I'm sorry to hear that. I hope you're able to watch more soon! Still aching for your review on Climax.

  3. I haven't seen most of these, but I can't agree more with the inclusion of Climax and Booksmart.

    My top of the year thus far are:

    5. Avengers: Endgame
    4. Booksmart
    3. The Lego Movie: The Second Part (seriously)
    2. Us
    1. Climax

    1. Climax for the win! Now that we're halfway through the year, I'm trying to keep a positive attitude, because I genuinely haven't seen anything else that comes close to Climax. But what a film it is.

  4. Loove the introduction (?) of honourable mentions and TV picks. Some great stuff here, although as you know I was not a fan of Climax or this (http://musicmotionmadnessfilm.blogspot.com/2019/04/long-days-journey-into-night.html). Always fun to read these and hell yeah this year is stacked so far! Never thought I'd say this but my no.1 of the year is Endgame atm. Stunning film, instead of a saccharine toy commercial.

    Oh and if you're interested I just finished editing my short, Spider. If you want to see it, let me know man.

    1. You know, your review of Long Day's Journey Into Night helped inform my little capsule review here. Because, yeah... though the shot looked great, it was distracting, and I'm not sure how much it added. I do need to see it again though.

      And dude, send me Spider ASAP! You still have my email, right? I can't wait to watch it!

  5. No "Us"? Were you, like me, embarrassed Peele used a first draft written on a napkin as a basis for a movie? :D

    1. Woof. Now that the hyperbolic buzz for that movie has cooled off, I guess it's okay to say that I did not like that film. I thought it started quite strong, but after Moss was killed, the movie opened up in way that fell so flat. It made itself too big. And how does Peele keep getting away with one of cinema's biggest faux pas, having a character explain any and every thing about the plot, and leaving absolutely nothing to mystery?

      Oh, and that "twist"... I called that when the girl was sitting in the principal's office in like minute 10. I had no idea Peele was saving that as a twist. It was so obvious to me, I thought it was just common knowledge. But Us, like Get Out, certainly does look great, and the acting is on point, but... ah fuck it, I'll just stop. Peele's movies just aren't really for me.

    2. I LOVED Get Out because even with exposition everything fit very well and was very clever. Every moment had a purpose and everything could be explained and make sense. But US is just filled with plot holes. Peele got so outrageously lazy saying that he is leaving stuff for the audience to figure out but that doesn't work when there are huge gaps in the fabric of how the world he created is supposed to work. The execution and the acting was fantastic but script is the most important thing and it just sucked big time

    3. I did like Get Out, I just didn't flip for it. My main issue was the twist, which was more obvious than the twist in Us. And I have some story/plot/common sense flaws with Get Out as well, but those can be for another time.

      I completely agree with what you said about Us. He opened that world far too wide, and then cut to black without sufficient explanation. There's a fine line to toe between allowing the audience to put something together, and being too lazy to come up with your own exposition. But we see this a lot; a director's first film is a sensation, and then they're given the freedom to make whatever they want next. Sometimes that freedom works out, sometimes it doesn't. I'm still very curious to see what he does next.

  6. Haven't seen much from 2019, though I agree the divisive Under the Silver Lake is worth the time, well-said "the purposelessness of this film is hypnotic". The quote “how’s work?” is pretty funny.
    We already talked about Climax which I liked a bit less than you, but was still impressed by in patches.
    I have Michael Apted's 63 Up as my #1 so far, granted it's listed as a "TV-Movie".

    1. I love the Up series! I need to rewatch 56 Up just to catch up with everyone. But it looks like 63 Up isn't available anywhere here yet, so I'll have to be on the lookout for that. What a remarkable achievement those films are. Can't wait to see what Neil is up to.

  7. Oh snap, I thought I was doing pretty well with 2019 releases but I've barely seen any of your Top 10!

    1. Well there is so much now to watch, so it makes total sense that we aren't watching the same movies! It's so tough to keep up now.

  8. I've only seen two of top 10, High Flying Bird and Booksmart. I really liked Booksmart. The two leads power that film to the heights it reaches.

    Didn't care for High Flying Bird. I'm a Soderbergh fan, and a basketball fan, but it bored me to tears. It looked great, no arguing the technical excellence of it. The story wasn't fleshed out enough even though the chosen topic offers plenty of ammo. Soderbergh also tried to hide the fact that there wasn't enough done with it by inserting doc style interviews with NBA players which mostly had very little to do with the plot.

    Of your HM's I loved John Wick 3. It's just a big barrel of fun. Hated Godzilla: King of the Monsters even though I wanted badly to love it. While Soderbergh made a fabulous looking movie on an I-phone, Michael Dougherty made a terrible looking one with a $200 million budget. Everything was too dark/foggy/rainy/far away for me to see anything. For me, it was just 2 hours of noise without being able to make out the sources.

    1. I hear what you're saying about High Flying Bird, but man, I just can't explain it, there is something about Soderbergh's aesthetic that makes me feel alive. I thought that was a breezy, easy film that he made as a bit of a technical and distribution experiment. I do think his iPhone films are a tad slighter than his other material, but I cannot deny that I love them. I literally woke up at 5:45 am the day High Flying Bird came out, just so I could watch it before work. I'm insane.

  9. I have not watched nearly enough movies yet this year, but i'll try to cobble together a list. Booksmart is the only one i have seen on your list so far. Need to check out the rest.

    5. Glass - I know a lot of people hated this movie, but i really enjoyed it. It's just so much fun to watch James McAvoy switch between characters at the drop of a hat. The story made no sense though.

    4. Spider-man: Far from Home - It was mostly just another generic super hero movie, but Jake Gyllenhaal was just a lot of fun as the bad guy in this and elevated the movie a lot. Spider-man always gets the best villains next to Batman.

    3. Us - Kind of a disappointment after Get Out, but i still enjoyed it. It has some great performances, especially from Lupita Nyong'o, and a lot of genuinely creepy moments. The story was kind of a mess though and the plot twist was really obvious from the beginning.

    2. Booksmart - Just a really funny and charming comedy. I hope we get to see more from both the lead girls in the coming years.

    1. Deadwood: The Movie - Deadwood has been one of my favorite TV shows since it's original run so to finally get a proper conclusion was fantastic. All the actors slipped right back into character with such ease it's almost as if the show never went off the air at all. I really hope Olyphant and McShane both get some Emmy and Golden Globes love for this. I wouldn't be surprised if this ended up on my top 10 movies of the year at the end of this year as well. I loved it.

    Guilty pleasure: Pokémon Detective Pikachu - I grew up with the Pokemon games on Gameboy so this was a childhood dream come true and i unironically had a good time watching it. I want sequels!

    1. I liked Glass as well! It was too long, and the ending dragged and dragged, but I thought it was fun. Deadwood: The Movie, man, PLEASE let their be Emmy nods. I mean, how in the hell McShane failed to get nominated before is beyond me, but that damn film was a masterwork. Stroke of genius. Loved it.

  10. I agree with the TV list but man, your top 10 is interesting. I wasn't a huge fan of Under the Silver Lake (I saw it last year) and it was just a very dull 2 hours at the cinema for me. Also, The Beach Bum? Made my list of the worst movies of 2019 so far.. so that's nice :D I loved Spring Breakers, so it's not that I'm not a fan of Korine but like, I had the hardest time finding anything likeable in Beach Bum. You say it may seem lifeless but for me, it seemed worthless. Is that bad? It makes it sound so bad, man, I don't like being mean towards movies, especially in comments for those who liked said movie but it is what it is.
    Let's end on a good note: I loved Booksmart too! :D

    1. I get it! I don't like being mean about movies anymore either, especially in comment threads, but yeah, that's a damn tough movie to like. The thing is, Spring Breakers is actually the outlier of Korine's career. I think a lot of people saw that movie and assumed that the rest of his movies were like that, when in fact, they're typically as aimless, meandering, and plotless as The Beach Bum. The success of Spring Breakers allowed Korine to hire name talent and a fantastic crew for The Beach Bum, but I think that movie has more in common with Trash Humpers than it does with Spring Breakers.

      So, I dunno, I expected BB to be more like SB, but when I realized it wasn't, I was cool with it. There's nothing conventional about that movie; it feels more like an art installation than a flick, but I dug it. And I completely understand why others would not.

  11. I think the only thing here I've actually seen is Booksmart (which I adored), but thanks for the High Flying Bird rec! It is indeed even on Estonian Netflix, and I'm gonna watch it soon. I needed something short and surprising anyway.

    Interesting how there's several in your top 10 that don't really have a plot though! You must have so much patience haha. Wish I had that.

    1. I hope you like High Flying Bird, and I promise it has a plot! And that's funny, because I typically do prefer story to plot, feeling to action, and I guess this list reflects that!

  12. My Top 12 Films of 2019:
    (65 new releases seen as of comment)
    1.) Apollo 11
    2.) Toy Story 4
    3.) Us
    4.) Shadow
    5.) Spider-Man: Far From Home
    6.) The Biggest Little Farm
    7.) Okko's Inn
    8.) Climax
    9.) Avengers: Endgame
    10.) Ladies in Black
    11.) Ash Is Purest White
    12.) Cold Pursuit

    1. 65 new releases... you're killing it! Does that include TV movies, Netflix movies, HBO movies? I get so confused about what we can count as a film now. Does Deadwood: The Movie count as a movie? It was shot as a film but aired on HBO. High Flying Bird was shot as a film but aired on Netflix, and I consumed them the exact same way, on the same TV and sound system. I dunno, the lines are so blurred haha.

  13. Great list, especially for APOLLO 11, HER SMELL and LITTLE WOODS. CNN broadcast APOLLO 11 recently, but the other 2 need more people to get to them. The best I've seen all year LUCE will be going wide in early August and another Sundance favorite of mine THE FAREWELL is getting its released in the next couple of weeks. Going to be busy next few months compiling my best of the decade listing, there a few I still need to get to and many I need to rewatch in time.

    1. Thanks Jeff! I'll be on the lookout for Luce, thanks for recommending that one. Heard great things about The Farewell, looking forward to that one.

      And whew, the Best of the 2010s list! I'm excited to start diving into that one. My 1 and 2 should be locked, but it'll be fun to compile the rest. Can't wait to see yours!

  14. So happy you liked Dragged. My list right now:
    1. Dragged Across Concrete
    2. The Last Black Man In San Francisco
    3. Midsommar
    4. Avengers: Endgame
    5. Climax
    6. Deadwood: The Movie

    I'm mixed with Us and Glass.

    1. I really appreciated that Dragged knew exactly what it wanted to do, and it did it. Movies aren't really allowed to have such elaborate diversions like that anymore, and I really dug that. And hell yes to the Deadwood movie! I need to check that one out again soon.

  15. It's been a rough year for me, probably the busiest in a long time.
    I say this because I look at a list like yours, and I notice just how much I've missed so far. Out of your top 10, I've only seen #2,3,4 and 8. Surprisingly, our impressions of High Flying Bird and Under the Silver Lake differ greatly. In fact, the two would probably top the list for the biggest disappointments of the year for me.
    Have you seen The Farewell as of yet? Probably the only film I'd rate as truly great of the ones I've been able to see this year. There's just so much love and sincerity in it that it's deeply contagious. I couldn't shake it for days after watching it.
    Not far behind, I'd place Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Probably my favorite Tarantino since Kill Bill.
    Very interested to watch Gaspar Noe's Climax after your wholehearted endorsement. Same thing goes with American Woman and Dragged Across Concrete.
    I was also glad to see Booksmart make your list. Very funny film. A couple of scenes were simply hilarious.

  16. Love this comment! I've cooled on Silver Lake considerably. It didn't really hold up on another viewing for me. High Flying Bird certainly didn't hold up as well for me the second time, and is far from top tier Soderbergh, but I liked the idea of Soderbergh doing another talking movie.

    Hollywood is my number one so far, with Climax at number two. I would love to hear your thoughts on that one! And I do need to see The Farewell. Heard nothing but great things.