Monday, July 8, 2019

Our Favorite Movies of 2019 So Far

Checking in with our favorites at the halfway point of the year!

Mike:  Avengers: Endgame
We at F This Movie! like to champion the little guy, the movie that has flown under the radar that we want to help introduce to a larger audience. That is why I’d like to shine a light on my favorite film of 2019, Avengers: Endgame.

In all seriousness, I’m sure everyone is sick of hearing about A:E, but I can’t deny that it was my favorite movie-going experience of the year so far. I can’t imagine anyone reading this hasn’t seen it yet, but just in case I won’t spoil anything. All I’ll say is that I was reminded over three (quick) hours why I love this cast and these characters. And while it hooked me from the beginning, the last act had a number of moments in particular that had me on an emotional rollercoaster I wasn’t prepared for. One second my theater was cheering like a rock concert; the next, you could hear a pin drop. In the last battle there’s a scene that gave me chills, because after 11 years and 20+ movies, it felt like it all led up to this one moment, and boy was it earned.

In a weird way, one of the best compliments that I can pay a comic book movie is that after watching it it made me want to go home and read some comics. Memories start flooding back to a time when comic books were as important to me as movies, and that was a wonderful time in my life. Avengers: Endgame did that for me, and if for no other reason, that is why it’s my favorite movie of 2019 so far.

Mark Ahn: John Wick 3: Parabellum
There is no dick-kicking that I can describe better than Patrick already has, but, appropriate to this Fourth of July, John Wick is the best ongoing series in that most American of genres, the action movie (I only feel safe in saying this because it looks like there won’t be a Raid 3). Keanu Reeves and director Chad Stahelski keep betting on themselves to make their assassins world bigger and the action more imaginative, pulling in all of their favorite influences, whether they make sense or not (eg. classic literature, philosophy, pop culture) and cooking up a movie that makes me physically exhausted to watch it. My favorite thing this franchise does now is to pull in the Best Available Actor for a few scenes. What’s up, Anjelica Huston!

Triple Frontier
There is a subgenre of action movie that you can watch comfortably while getting stuff done around the house; I’ve called it the “folding laundry” movie. Triple Frontier is just such a movie; it doesn’t have high-minded aims like pushing genre conventions but it’s not slumming it for cheap thrills, either. How does it meet and slightly exceed its modest audience expectations? You get a competent writer/director in J.C. Chandor, and a totally overqualified cast with Oscar Isaac, Pedro Pascal, Charlie Hunnam, Garret Hedlund (might not be overqualified), and the best casting and use of middle-aged Ben Affleck outside of Gone Girl. It starts out as a heist, but then takes some turns into something else.

Robyn Buckley: At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal
Should a movie be considered a favorite of the year if at the end all you are left with are feelings of rage and sadness? Does a movie have to invoke joy or happiness to be a favorite? These were my thoughts as I considered my choice of Best of 2019 (so far). And yet, I could not stop thinking about the HBO documentary At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal. A heartbreaking and infuriating look into USA Gymnastics, and specifically the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal, I’m choosing this because it is a documentary that everyone should see. As a society, we need to understand how, why, and when the system failed – and fail it did, for years and years. We owe it to these women to watch this documentary so that their stories get told and something like this never happens again.

Jan B.: I think it’s likely that 2019 will be “remembered” as a “great year for movies” because of Hollywood moneypiles like Avengers: Endgame and Captain Marvel and John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum and Spiderman: Far From Home, as well as the forthcoming Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and the one where The Rock throws a flaming island at Idris Elba. Look at all the colons! I think a “:” in the title adds another $10 million to the production budget! In the face of all that sound and fury, it’s easy to overlook “smaller” films. Here are three I’ve really dug so far in 2019. (I was going to use a colon there to introduce this list, but I’m not MADE OF MONEY.)
Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase: A fun, energetic movie with a ton of heart and a terrific performance by Sophia Lillis. She plays Nancy as a real person who gets into real trouble with real friends—not the kind of weirdly affected, glossy-plastic dollgirl Hollywood usually throws at young moviegoers. I’d love to see more in this series.

The Perfection: This one had a plot that kept surprising me, but not in a “gotcha” way. The “smallness” of its monsters’ motivations — which center on cello-playing excellence — deepens the visceral horror.

Fighting With My Family: This one has The Rock in it too! It’s based on a true story, which I didn’t know until the end but which made me love it more. Lots of really funny performances, but the pro-wrestling obsessed family at this film’s warm, gooey center are portrayed as real people with important dreams and goals, not as punchlines. (See what I did there?)
Adam Riske: My favorite movie of 2019 is a tie between two comedies: Booksmart and Long Shot. I went into Booksmart thinking it was going to be a Superbad retread. I perked up quickly when I realized the movie wasn't just relying solely on a funny script, but also was getting comedic mileage from its direction. Olivia Wilde knocked it out of the park with her directorial debut here. It's wonderfully silly and reminded me a lot of my beloved Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. Long Shot is the romantic comedy I've been bemoaning no longer exists. Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen have surprisingly great chemistry, the movie is very funny and it feels like a movie about a real relationship. Plus, the movie correctly postulates that Roxette is awesome.

JB: I have to say that my knee-jerk reaction to “What’s the best movie you have seen this year so far?” is to choose between several delightful theatrical screenings of older films. Was it the Fathom Events screening of Casablanca or Gone With the Wind? Was it the Music Box Theater’s recent Buster Keaton festival? Was it the Davis Theater’s Sci-Fi Spectacular screening of Phantom of the Paradise? Well, to be fair, none of those, because to pick and choose among the classics of yesteryear is to tilt the system towards the past. Of course those screenings were great; those films were the best of the best, and classic screenings ignore the thousands of other films from those same years that have been assigned to the garbage pail of history. Only the strong survive.
The best film I have seen this year so far is Rocketman. It’s the only film this year (besides Avengers: Endgame) that I have gone back to see a second time in a theater. I applaud the fact that this film is a full-blown Broadway-style musical (though the trailers tried to hide that fact). I applaud Taron Egerton’s amazing performance, which never stoops to the level of a mere impression. I applaud the fact that Egerton does his own singing. I applaud the film’s exuberant choreography. I applaud the fact that this film is much more upfront and explicit about its subject’s sexuality than other recent rock star biopics.

My only quibble is the film’s reliance on the “VH1 Behind the Music” narrative structure that dictates the rock star in question should lose everything before the required third act redemption. To make Elton John’s life fit this hackneyed plot required the filmmakers to treat the 1990’s as the decade that John “lost” to drug and alcohol abuse. You know, the decade that saw him write the songs for Disney’s The Lion King and record the biggest-selling single in British history, his “Candle in the Wind 1997” for Lady Diana’s funeral. Still…

This film is a delight, and all of you should see it in a theater with a good, strong sound system while you still have a chance. I loved how the songs were used, and I loved which songs were chosen from among Elton John’s titanic songbook. (The man had 27 Top Ten singles.) Of course, I may be biased. I grew up in the Seventies; the first 45rpm single I ever bought was Elton John’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” Elton John provided the soundtrack for most of my teenage life.

Erika: This column was my idea, but then I went ahead and waited until the VERY last minute to write my contribution. So here I am, last to add, and just about EVERY SINGLE MOVIE I was thinking about for this piece has already been highlighted. I love that, though -- it's felt like a pretty fun summer of movies (no doubt partly because of #Junesploitation), and I am always thrilled to see others happy at the movies, too! With all this movie love floating around, my next instinct (after procrastinating) is to break all the rules (to be fair, there weren't really any rules but I figured I'd simply suggest one title); as I often say, the more, the merrier. I was captivated by a number of documentaries this year including Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror and both Fyre Festival documentaries (I still feel like this was all a dream -- that really happened?): Netflix's Fyre and Hulu's Fyre Fraud. The latter two overlapped of course, but each film offered some example or fascinating bit of information that the other didn't include, so I stand by the idea that both are worth anyone's time. The former was a fun and informative study of Black Horror featuring incredibly interesting interviews and first-hand accounts plus awesome movie clips punctuated throughout that make the film worth watching even if you aren't interesting in learning all the history (but why wouldn't you be?).
I'd love to help get the word out about a few films I saw at festivals too -- films that may end up relying more on word-of-mouth buzz than studio marketing budgets. At the Chicago Film Critics Film Festival in May, I loved Saint Frances, Olympic Dreams, and Brittany Runs a Marathon (to name a few). Olympic Dreams was picked up by IFC films and is scheduled for an early 2020 release, I think. Bookmark Patrick's review for then. Brittany Runs a Marathon is scheduled for an August 23rd release from Amazon Studios. Try to see this in a theater if you can! I'm still crossing my fingers that Saint Frances will get picked up and become available to the masses. It played well at SXSW, winning both the Audience Award and a Special Jury Award for director Alex Thompson. And the full house at Chicago's Music Box Theater for the CFCA Film Fest's opening night awarded it the Audience Award as well. Finally, I saw a bunch of unique, creative, haunting films at Cinepocalypse in June, but the one that stands out the most (not in the way that Verotika stands out, but in an "I loved it!" way) is Chelsea Stardust's Satanic Panic, which opens in theaters on September 6th. Yes, another movie most of us are dying to see opens that weekend too, but here's the great thing about being movie lovers: we don't have to choose and can see them both. Definitely put Satanic Panic on your must-see list.
Patrick: Seeing as how several of my favorites of the year so far have already been named, I'll go with Ari Aster's Midsommar. His last (first) feature, Hereditary, was my favorite film of 2018, so it's no real surprise to see his sophomore effort wind up on this list. I'm still working through a lot of what the movie has to offer, but I really like it as one of the blackest comedies about a relationship I've ever seen. Alternating dread, human drama, trippy bullshit, and visceral horror, Midsommar is a roller coaster of tones and emotions that I can see might alienate a lot of viewers. Me being me, I like how messy it is. The photography, editing, and performances are uniformly excellent. It also features the year's best score. Of all the stuff I've seen so far this year, this is the only one I'm sure will land a spot on my year-end list.


  1. Umm JB, how does RocketMan loose the 90s, when it effectively ends in 1983?

  2. Thanks for the comment, Jake. You are right. I misspoke. What I meant to say was that I wish his nineties work was included in the film as proof of his redemption, instead of the convenient, metaphor-rich “I’m Still Standing” number.

  3. In fact, because Elton John didn’t really get sober until 1990, it would have been more factually accurate as well.

  4. Is there any chance of a Midsommar cast?

  5. I appreciate the love for Triple Frontier. I have been advocating for this film since I saw it and I am surprised at how often it is overlooked. It is a great heist film, probably inspired by The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
    I love the fact the heist isn't the climax of the film, but another piece of rising action. They are too successful and get too much loot. The problem is not finding the money but removing it. This makes the characters own greed and paranoia elements of their downfall.
    Triple Frontier and Buster Scruggs are the only two Netflix films I have seen that I like at all. They are putting out far too many underwhelming films. Credit to J.C. Chandor and the great cast, this is one of the best Netflix originals.

    1. I had immediately discounted Triple Frontier and given it a "thumbs down" just based on the fact that it was a Netflix movie. I'm glad to hear it's worth watching.

      Also, when Netflix first started pushing it, it said "featuring Charlie Hunnam" (or maybe "with Charlie Hunnam"), which I found strange, considering Issac and Affleck would be considered by most to be more talented, and certainly better known actors. That also likely played a part in my immediate thumbs down. Who am I kidding. I thumbs down all Netflix originals!

  6. Thanks Erika. I had already seen Fyre but it was worth seeing Fyre Fraud as well. Notably absent from the Fyre doc was Jerry Media's involvement, because they were an executive producer on it. Is it a good thing I never heard of the Fyre Festival until these doc's came out? I'm entirely disconnected..haha.

    I'll eventually watch the Gymnastics doc, Robyn. urggg...I don't really want to be disgusted, but It's important to know what happened.

    There was a Nancy Drew movie?

    I never really cared much for Elton John's music, and I'm not a particular fan of musicals in general (exception being Mary Poppins, and Bigger Longer and Uncut....still waiting for the podcast! We know JB loves musicals and has a lot to say about this one!). Is it worth watching otherwise?

    Also, thanks for everyone else for the recommendations. I saw Long Shot was playing at the 2nd run mall theater, so I'll probably see it this Tuesday and enjoy the AC, and hopefully enjoy the movie as much as Adam.

  7. Paul! It was good!! :)