As we venture into a new decade of cinematic awesomeness, Carl reveals his top five flicks of 2019
Turn off the screens. Switch off the lights. Close the concession stands. Lock the doors. The 2019 movie year is over. What a year it has been. ‘Avatar‘ finally got a true challenger to its title of Top-Grossing Film of all time and after a gallant last round, slipped to defeat. We have had the heavyweights and biggest films of the year (Avengers: Endgame, Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker, Frozen II). We have had the enjoyable (Spider-Man: Far From Home, Captain Marvel, Toy Story 4, ETC.) We have had the shock box office failures (Terminator: Dark Fate, Rambo: Last Blood, Dumbo) and of course, the complete Christmas turkeys that deserve stuffing (More on these later).
Will 2019 go down as a classic or even a vintage year? In some respects, possibly but in many others, not so much. The fare on offer this year did indeed throw up some genuine surprises, films that I certainly didn’t expect to be as good as they were and on the other side of the coin, films I expected to blow me away and left me either disappointed or completely cold. What films sit on my favorite five films of the year and have hit my list for turkeys of the year? Let’s find out together.
Before we start, I want to make clear that these films are MY favorites of the year. You will probably disagree with my selections and that is how it should be. Another thing to point out is I’m disqualifying any movie that made its debut on Netflix or streaming service. Nothing against these films that premiere this way but I think its only fair to concentrate on the cinematic films. If I allowed these kinds of films to be included on my list the ‘The Irishman‘ would feature on my top films of the year list so my apologies to Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro and cast for their omission. On the flip side, Ryan Reynolds and Michael Bay can thank me for not including ‘6 Underground‘ on my turkey’s list as their craptacular film certainly earned a place on it.
Still with me? Good! Films that missed out on landing in my top 5 include ‘Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker‘, normally a shoo-in for a top-five place but came out in a particularly strong year, landing at number six in my personal chart. Others include ‘John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum‘, ‘Shazam!‘, ‘Doctor Sleep‘ and ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home‘. In any normal year, these would rank highly on my list but have to settle for a lower place on my personal favorites of 2019. Anyway, time to hit the top five.
A wonderfully dark, twisted, scary and completely enjoyable creature feature from Producer Sam Raimi and Director Alexandre Aja and starring British actress Kaya Scodelario in almost every frame of the 87 minutes running time. The best thing about the film is that it could so easily become fact. Ok, some of it could! Set mainly in a flooded house in Florida during a hurricane that floods the area, the film plays with the audience’s emotions. It does have a fair few jump scares that are telegraphed in places but there are certainly enough here to frighten the wits out of the audience. My feelings before seeing the film were that it was a film depicting a young woman versus a LONE large alligator. Of course, there is more than just one creature and they glide through the flood water like a reptilian version of Jaws. There is blood flowing pretty freely throughout the scenes we view on the screen and some really gory and wince-inducing moments to be had. Just watch the scene where Barry Pepper, on Dad duties in this movie, sets a broken bone in his leg using a screwdriver and then tell me you didn’t cringe during it! The film is bound to be listed in the future as a classic creature feature, an accolade the film deserves.
(4) Avengers: Endgame:
What can I say about the film that hasn’t been said before? A fantastic, emotion-filled climax to 22 films and ten years from Marvel Studios. The culmination of storylines that we have watched being played out before our eyes and a brief set-up for the next phase of films coming from the studio. I reported before the film was even finished that it could be the juggernaut that blew ‘Avatar‘ out of the top-grossing film of all time slot and boy, was I proved right. Ok, it did take a while and a re-release to secure the crown but the film made it in style. We laughed at Fat Thor and his ‘Big Lebowski’ style during the first hour of the film. We laughed along at Scott Lang (Ant-Man) and his hilarious quips and attempted theories on time travel, mainly based on the ‘Back To The Future Trilogy’. We gasped in amazement and shock as we lost Black Widow around halfway through the film as she sacrificed herself in place of Hawkeye/Ronin to attain the soul stone. We let out a cheer as Captain America proved worthy to wield Thor’s hammer as he took the fight to Thanos in brilliant style.
We were all on tenterhooks as the fallen returned to face Thanos and his forces in the final battle. We ALL cheered and screamed in joy as Cap finally uttered the immortal words “Avengers! Assemble!”. And of course, we all shed a tear or cried openly as Iron-Man gave his life to defeat Thanos and as we watched Cap hand over his shield to Falcon and we discovered he did get his happy ever after with Peggy Carter. A three-hour rollercoaster that enthralled us, entertained us and will go down in history as the best comic-book movie Marvel could have given us.
(3) Jojo Rabbit:
Now here is a film I never thought would get anywhere near my top five movies of the year. A comedy set in Nazi Germany about a ten-year-old boy being indoctrinated into the Hitler youth? Not for me thank you. Not my kind of film. And then I saw it at a preview screening ahead of its UK release on New Years Day 2020. And it blew me away. I can’t remember ever being so surprised at a film for such a long time. It made me roar with laughter at times at the sheer absurdity of it, how it was so silly and funny that it took me by the collar and dragged me into its world. The main character of Johannes ‘Jojo’ Betzler is living with his mother, Rosie played wonderfully by Scarlett Johansson in Nazi Germany during the later stages of World War II and is in constant communication with his imaginary friend, a childish version and interpretation of Adolf Hitler.
Hitler is played by the films’ writer, producer, and director Taika Waititi. And if he doesn’t get an Oscar Nomination for his performance in the film, there is no justice. The film is wonderful. At times extremely funny and makes you laugh out loud, other times make you stop and think and see the horrors the characters face and at times is completely moving and sad. Jojo’s relationship with Elsa, the Jewish teenager he finds hiding in a crawlspace in his home starts off being nasty from his side but the teenage girl plays him at his own game, scaring him during their meetings until the mutual distrust between them starts to fade and a brother/sister type bond starts to form. A completely wonderful, original and surprising film.
(2) Knives Out:
I never thought this would be as good as it was. A return to the classic whodunnits from yesteryear, Rian Johnson’s modern twist on the genre is probably the best ensemble piece there has been all year. Toplining Daniel Craig as Private detective Benoit Blanc with fantastic support from Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, and Michael Shannon and a wonderfully dark, twisted and at times hilarious appearance from the Legendary Christopher Plummer as the victim, Harlan Thrombey, the film astounds and enthralls the audience from the start. The twists and turns, the red herrings, the way it plays out are magnificent. However, the standout performance comes in the form of Ana De Armas. She brings a tremendous sense of vulnerability in her portrayal as Marta Cabrera, Harlan’s nurse. As much as Craig and Evans are most certainly the stars of the piece, De Armas beats them all in the acting stakes. We are on the journey with her all the way and her performance enthralls us and makes us feel for her all the way through the movie.
Craig gives a brilliant performance as the private investigator, his Bayou accent sounds pretty good even if we really can’t see past his blue eyes and charm. Evans gives us at first, a performance of a slimy little character that we decide we will despise all the way through the film. And then the tables turn on us and we find ourselves liking him for the remainder of the running time. Make no bones about it, the family and the characters we meet throughout the course of the film are all out for themselves, double-dealing and backstabbing each other without mercy and, just like an Agatha Christie mystery, each of them has a motive to kill Harlan and all have their dirty little secrets. But its all part of the fun we experience throughout this impressive and wholly enjoyable movie. And believe me, when I say, I REALLY want to see a sequel hitting the screens as soon as possible.
Before I reveal my top film of 2019, let me pause and look back on the turkeys that stank up the multiplexes this year. Before I unveil my roll of dishonor, let us take a quick look back at the films that really didn’t deserve to hit the screen. We start with the blockbuster ending to Fox’s tenure as custodians of the franchise as they unleashed the disaster that was ‘X-Men: Dark Phoenix‘. The franchise needed a massive shot in the arm after the wreckage of ‘X-Men: The Last Stand‘ which incidentally was the first attempt at making a film version of the classic ‘Dark Phoenix‘ saga. The series received a boost with ‘X-Men: First Class‘ and ‘X-Men: Days Of Future Past‘ before it fell back down again with ‘X-Men: Apocolypse‘. Whereas this new version of the property was better than its 2006 counterpart,’The Last Stand‘, it still urinated on the storyline and delivered a warm turd instead of a hot potato.
‘Cats‘ was supposed to be the film that challenged ‘The Rise Of Skywalker‘ for the Christmas dollars and to be an Academy botherer. Instead, we were served up a film that deserved to be left in the litter tray where it belongs. When the film company has to rush an updated version to theatres to replace the version they sent them a few days earlier, you already know the film is in deep trouble. And so It proved. Not even the talents of Dame Judi Dench, Sir Ian McKellan, Idris Elba, Rebel Wilson, James Corden and Taylor Swift which should have guaranteed a big hit movie can save what will go down as one of the biggest disappointments of the year.
‘Godzilla: King Of The Monsters‘ wasn’t a disaster by any means of the imagination but does stand as a reminder that sometimes, even the best-intended of movies comes across as shallow and soulless. Here we have the perfect example. When we see the creatures battling each other, we are entranced. The special effects are top-notch and the film as a whole was entertaining. But it came across as soulless and empty-hearted. What remains amusing is the original movie was slammed for having too many human moments and not enough monsters. This time around, people are complaining that we get too many monster moments and not enough human interaction! You just can’t win sometimes. The film didn’t break the bank like Warner Bros hoped for which could be the reason the follow-up movie, ‘Godzilla Vs Kong‘ has been pushed back to the end of 2020 instead of being a big summer release.
And now, the roll of dishonor in reverse order of demerit.
Or how to NOT make a film about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Despite an all-star cast and some pretty good special effects, the film deserved to sink to the bottom of the ocean. I’ll be honest and can see what the director Roland Emmerich was trying to achieve with this misfire. His heart and thoughts are all in the right places but the film fails to fly on almost every level. And that’s a shame as I was looking forward to the film. With a little more thought, a better script and a better approach to the material, it could have been a worthwhile endeavour. Instead, the film was dead in the water before the first images hit the screen.
Oh my god! I ended up starting my own countdown to how much longer I had to sit through this pretty awful film. The premise is a decent enough one and a decent writer and filmmaker could produce a pretty effective horror movie on a low budget. This ain’t it. In this digital age we live in right now, I’m not shocked by what I saw on the screen. Some unscrupulous and wealth-obsessed tech designer has designed apps just like the one featured in the film. The result does leave some people who download it freaked out. Believe me, downloading this film to their phones would be even scarier. It would be frightening to realize that someone would pay to have the film on their phone. Therein lies the REAL horror.
I SO wanted to like this film. I was hoping that it would be a great return to the big screen for Big Red and the B.R.P.D. I was desperate for David Harbour to make the role his own, even though he wouldn’t get close to topping Ron Perlman and his take on the character. I heard the film was bad but was hoping that the critics didn’t get the property as many of the fans worldwide would and it would turn out ok. Not a chance. Harbour does indeed make a good Hellboy, don’t get me wrong. He tries hard with what material he has and with a better script, he could easily have carried the franchise into the next decade. Sadly, he won’t get the chance as this film has destroyed the franchise once and for all and sent the property down into the flaming pits of hell. It is godawful. With completely terrible support from Daniel Dae Kim, Milla Jovovich and a career-worst performance from Ian McShane, the film stunk up the theatres it played in. Like the movie version of ‘Spawn‘ way back in the 1990s, the film completely destroys the source material and hands us a steaming turd of a movie.
(2) Black Christmas:
Bah Humbug! Look, if you are like me and have a real passion for horror movies, then you will be aware of the original ‘Black Christmas‘ from 1974. Here was a film that terrified, shocked and left the audience with a sense of fear as the final credits rolled. It led the way to such a classic film as ‘Halloween‘. And put them both together on a double bill at the movies or at a drive-in and it would be perfect. 2006 saw a remake of the film which I thought was awful and a stain on the character of the original. And then this version emerged. Not only does it completely disregard the source material. Not only does it manage to be completely scare-free, but it also gained a PG-13 rating! A freaking PG-13! For what is supposed to be a remake of one of the finest slasher movies ever made. Damn you Hollywood, how could you? This new version makes the 2006 remake look like an Oscar Winner in comparison. This version deserves to be buried as deep as you possibly can go and be removed from history, never to be mentioned again.
I really don’t think there are words in the entire languages of the world to completely convey my total hatred of this film. It is quite possibly one of the worst films ever created. And to make things even worse, the film made tons of money, almost certainly leading us to the chance of a sequel. Heaven help us. Some people genuinely enjoyed the film and good luck to them. I most certainly not going to criticize their choice of entertainment. I, on the other hand, lost count the times the storyline completely ignored or changed what has happened in the ‘Fast & Furious‘ franchise before it. A totally unfunny, horrendous mess of a film. What the film offers us is mindless, stupid, turgid ‘entertainment’. And it was boring. Usually, you can find enjoyment and comfort from a Dwayne Johnson or Jason Statham movie. Hell, in the ‘Fast & Furious‘ franchise movies, together they are great and extremely entertaining, their banter often hilarious and lives long after the audience has left the theatre. Here, it is so forced, so totally out of character and completely ridiculous that I couldn’t wait for the end credits to roll. And then I had to sit there through the end credits to see the stingers the film contained. I really shouldn’t have bothered.
WHEN not if the sequel hits theatres, my advice to the filmmakers involved in it to actually know the mythology and facts between the two main characters, their history, their combined families and to actually WRITE a script with wit, action and something that will entertain the audience. For this to be the top of the crap pile this year is a shock to me. I thought it would be enjoyable at least. Note to Hollywood, DON’T just churn out crap like this and expect the cash to roll in. You may have got away with it this time but we, the audience, are on to you and your tricks now.
And finally, we now come to my number one film of the year. The film that not only surprised me but after seeing the first trailer thought would be on the turkey list instead of being top in my films of the year collection. And that film is…
I would never have believed that this film would be the best film I have seen all year if you had told me beforehand. I would have laughed and snorted with derision. As I sat in the movie theatre waiting for the film to start, It went through my mind that I knew exactly where the film would go, what it would contain and how would I gain any form of entertainment from the film. And then the movie started. The film blew me away from the start. Is Arthur Fleck the ‘real’ Joker? Is he just living a deluded fantasy? Is he the basis for the Joker we know and love (to hate) in the future? The film does what it should have done. We never find out the truth. We never know what is real or what is a paranoid delusion in Arthur’s mind. All we know for sure is we are with Arthur as he descends into insanity. We take the whole journey with him, from the start of his rapid slide down right up to the shocking moment his journey becomes complete.
Everything we see on the screen we have to watch and digest throughout the entire movie. We have to form our own conclusions about what we witness. Director Todd Philips has delivered an astonishing study into the human mind, into a man’s descent into insanity. And although the journey isn’t very pleasant, we are strapped in and forced to take the journey along with Arthur. Joaquin Phoenix plays Arthur in what HAS to be an Oscar-winning performance. Phoenix’s acting on display here is completely astonishing in its excellence. We feel for Arthur, we want to take him by the hand and offer to help him, to be his friend throughout his journey with the hope of him coming out the other side unscathed. But ultimately, we end up fearing Arthur as his arc becomes complete. Phoenix portrays the character as someone we all see on the street every day and try to avoid. All they need is a smile and a friendly word and it would make their day. But as always, we do our best to not see them, to be blind to them and their world. And Phoenix gives us all a masterclass in acting.
Robert De Niro takes second billing in the credits but in reality, his role is just an extended cameo. He portrays talk show host Murry Franklin excellently but make no mistake, this is Phoenix’s show from the off. And by the end of the film, we know that Arthur never really existed. We all believe that the Joker is the mask for Arthur. By the time the film ends, we realize the Joker was always there, that he was using Arthur as his mask, his way to integrate into society. The film as a whole, while disturbing and violent in places, is possibly one of the best films to hit the multiplexes in a long time. The script is astounding, the direction is top-notch and that is what makes the film my pick as the best film of 2019.
As we move quickly towards 2020 and the opening of new movies on New Years Day, we can look forward to another bumper year of the finest (hopefully) of what Hollywood can offer. Alongside the big-budget fare, we can expect lower budget and more personal films to hit the screens which are always welcome. My eyes are already on several films on the release slate as either films I’m eagerly awaiting to see (Halloween Kills), films that are looking interesting (The Gentlemen) and films that have been pushed back and back and could be proper stinkers (The New Mutants).
I take this opportunity to wish all of you, our readers and fans alike, all my best wishes for the incoming new year and with the hope that we are in for a bumper year of great new releases.
Until next year.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!
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Carl Roberts is a Senior Staff Writer and Books and Literature Correspondent for Future of the Force. He is passionate about Star Wars, Marvel, DC, Indiana Jones and Horror movies. Follow him on Twitter @CarlRoberts2 where he uses the force frequently!