Monday, July 8, 2019
Our Favorite Movies of 2019 So Far
Mike: 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
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!
Robyn Buckley: At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal
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?)
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.
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?).
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.
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.