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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Dan's Best and Worst Films of 2019

Dec 23, 2019 04:24PM ● By Dan Metcalf

The Best and Worst Films of 2019.

As 2019 draws to a close, it’s commonplace to reminisce on the year that was and contemplate on movies that deserve recognition, for better or for worse. While there were some very good films to consider, I think the number of excellent movies leaves an open field. Here are my lists of the best and worst films of 2019.

Best of 2019

There was no runaway dominant film at the top of my list this year, but my top five are fairly close. Some movies in my honorable mentions could have easily cracked the Top Ten if anyone were to argue the point, but hey, it’s my list. Feel free to let me know what you think or make your own list. 

1. 1917 – Sam Mendes directed, but his work on this epic film is overshadowed by Roger Deakins’ incredible cinematography. It’s a movie presented in two continuous shots (using special effects and invisible edits) that is enthralling from start to finish, immersing the audience in the quest of two soldiers on a mission to save a British brigade from a deadly campaign. The constant action, outstanding visual storytelling, and epic scope make 1917 my choice for the best film of the year. 

2. Marriage Story – Films about divorce are often problematic, sometimes offering a glimmer of hope for reconciliation between the two parties or trivializing their struggles with melodrama or dark comedy. Marriage story is that rare film that takes an honest approach, avoiding the taking of sides and allowing the audience to feel equal empathy for the husband and wife, beautifully portrayed by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. Marriage Story is by far the best performance of their respective careers.  

3. Richard Jewell – Paul Walter Hauser’s performance as a simple, good man who saved lives only to have his own life shattered by shoddy federal investigators and a willing, unethical news media is a great film by Clint Eastwood. It expertly depicts the best and worst of humanity and is well worth seeing.

4. The Irishman – You’d think we’d all have “Mafia” movies fatigue from Martin Scorsese by now, but he just keeps upping his game. The Irishman is very long but very riveting as the story of a hitman and confidant of the Mob moves (and survives) throughout the latter half of the 20th Century. Robert DeNiro is complimented by a Joe Pesci, who steps outside his more bombastic mafia roles, delivering an understated and chilling performance. 

5. Little Women – Speaking of fatigue, it may seem like we’re always getting some sort of new adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s famed novel. In the hands of the talented Greta Gerwig, there’s a new perspective on Alcott’s semi-autobiographical classic, complemented by great performances from Saoirse Ronan and newcomer Florence Pugh. It’s a delightful family movie with a great message of what it means to be truly independent. 

6. Waves – Trey Edwards Shults created a great film about a family on the verge of destruction. Sterling K. Brown and Taylor Russell perform admirably as a father and daughter trying to deal with the tragic decisions of another family member. The cinematography and music score are equally brilliant.

7. Avengers: End Game – How do you end the saga of The Avengers, while giving equal screen time to more than two dozen main superhero characters, without losing the audience? The Marvel folks pulled it off with this emotional and exciting finale, bolstered by great performances from Robert Downey, Jr, Scarlett Johansson, and Chris Hemsworth. It’s sad to see beloved characters’ stories end (sort of), but its 3-hour run time didn’t feel too long or too short.

8. Ford v Ferrari – It didn’t seem likely that a movie about race cars (in Europe, no less) would be great source material for a major motion picture, but Director/Co-writer James Mangold found the perfect chemistry between the main characters (Matt Damon and Christian Bale), fantastic cinematography, film editing, sound design, and sound editing to make an exciting thrill ride of a movie.

9. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood – Though not entirely based in reality, the “Land of Make-believe” as told through this wonderful film perfectly captures the spirit of Fred Rogers, wonderfully portrayed by Tom Hanks. As a companion piece to last year’s equally brilliant documentary “Won’t You be my Neighbor?” this movie tugs at your heart and reminds us of the contemporary need for a little more kindness.

10. JoJo Rabbit – Taika Waititi’s imaginative satire about a young Nazi boy and his imaginary friend Adolph Hitler may not seem appropriate at face value, but JoJo Rabbit has a lot of unexpected charm to it, much like a Wes Anderson movie. Sam Rockwell and Scarlett Johansson’s wonderful supporting performances are also hard to dismiss. 

Honorable Mentions: Parasite, Apollo 11, The Peanut Butter Falcon, The Lighthouse, Joker, Captain Marvel, Knives Out, Dolemite is my Name, Spider-Man: Far from Home, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

Worst of 2019

The race to the bottom was tight this year, and no one was more surprised than me at the photo finish between the two worst films on my list. There were plenty of other really bad films competing as well, so please enjoy and remember that I watched these movies, so you didn’t have to. You’re welcome. 

1. Cats – For a movie to get a Christmas release – AND make it onto just about everyone’s “worst” lists is quite a feat since really bad films are usually held over to January. This movie may go down in history as the most maligned of all time. Computer-generated cat fur, whiskers, tails coupled with a string of meaningless exposition is the most cringe-worthy film experience I can remember.

2. Serenity – This was my solid front-runner for the worst film of 2019 until Cats dropped in at the last second. I’m still scratching my head as to how such a terrible concept could get off the ground, let alone Oscar-winners Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway being convinced to star in it. I’m always happy to spoil the ending for anyone who asks about this so-called film noir disaster: It’s about a video game conceived in the mind of a child. Don’t make that face. I actually sat through this movie. 

3. Glass – When you get to the end of a movie and hear a collective groan (the kind of reaction you’d expect from a really bad or inappropriate “dad joke”) you know Glass really misses the mark. After M. Night Shyamalan dropped a hint that he was resurrecting characters from Unbreakable (2000) in 2017’s Split, I had serious doubts as to how that would work. My doubts were confirmed in the finale of Glass, as we see a very tepid attempt to create another cinematic universe. Hard pass.

4. Greta - To say Greta is a terrible film is perhaps too kind. Isabelle Huppert’s “crazy lady” act is something of the dinner theater caliber, while Chloe Grace Moretz sleepwalks her way through several bad decisions, and obvious solutions. There wasn’t a single moment of suspense or drama during the entire film.

5. Dumbo - Walt Disney himself used to boast that he and his team were true “imagineers,” or folks who were willing to experiment and take risks until they could produce some of the most compelling films of the 20th Century. With crap like Dumbo, it seems the only folks who work for Disney these days are “re-imagineers,” or people who think of new interesting ways to ruin the studios' classics by integrating contemporary social justice themes in a not-too-subtle way. The results are varied in the remakes, but this movie crashes and burns in a pile of woke garbage.

6. The Hustle – Based on Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, it would be fine if The Hustle’s only problem was lack of originality, but when coupled with the lousy performances and lack of chemistry between Rebel Wilson and Anne Hathaway, it’s a movie worth forgetting.

7. Wonder Park – This movie fails on so many levels, including a story that lacks any nuance or subtlety. An animated feature spends a lot of time blatantly preaching obvious morality messages, beating the audience over the head with a series of hackneyed altruism you’d normally find inside a fortune cookie.

8. Rambo: Last BloodIt’s a pointless film with little redeeming value, positioned as a catalyst to re-launch another aging action hero series, much like how Schwarzenegger can’t let go of the Terminator. It’s also a good excuse to spill buckets of blood and turn faceless, countless minions into human hamburger. This one is nothing more than revenge porn and a waste of time.

9. Angel Has Fallen – As the third sequel Gerard Butler’s “Fallen” series, this movie might be a comedy if you consider the ridiculous premise as some sick form of political satire, but that would be giving the film too much credit. It is hilarious, and not in a good way. We’re left with a preposterous exercise in improbabilities, convenient plot hole fixes, action movie clichés, and mindless dialogue all based around the unluckiest Secret Service agent aver conceived. Let us pray that there will be no more “Fallen” sequels.

10. Ugly Dolls – This one is an exercise in cinematic mediocrity, if not complete failure. The “moral” of the story is so trite, so corny and so blatantly obvious, rendering Ugly Dolls unenjoyable for people of all ages unless you consider that some preschoolers might be mildly amused (or occasionally distracted) by the colorful talking dolls.  

(Dis)honorable Mention: The Goldfinch, The Kitchen, Dark Phoenix, The Sun is Also a Star, 21 Bridges, Pet Semetery, The Aftermath, Men in Black: International, Hobbs and Shaw, Shaft.