That title is a little deceiving. It seems to tip a hat to movies I saw at the cinema. “At The Movies” was the name of one of my favorite shows on PBS growing up in the 80s. Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel loving and loathing new films together on a cheesy sound stage made to look like a theater balcony. They were my go-to guys when it came to finding out about new movies hitting my local theater. I was disappointed as much as I was thrilled when it came to their opinions on films I wanted them to like, because they were films I wanted to see. At 8-years old is where I started an over 30-year love for Roger Ebert and his both pragmatic and poetic way with film reviews. Sure I didn’t agree with him at times, but you need only read his review for Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York to know how heavy a film could be to him.
While I’ve seen some of these movies in a theater I haven’t seen them all. New Year’s Resolution? See more films in a theater as opposed to renting online. Renting from Amazon is pretty damn easy for me, and the popcorn is WAAAY cheaper in my air popper, but nothing comes close to the darkness of a multiplex. Much like spinning an album isn’t the same as gathering in an auditorium and seeing a band play that record live. So next year I hope that over half my list is films I’ve seen sitting in a large, dark room with others staring at a large screen enjoying(or not enjoying) a film together.
So here’s a list of 2019 movies I’ve seen. Not in any order(except the first one you come to), but with a few words on each of them.
A lot of people these days don’t even go to a movie once. There are alternatives. It doesn’t have to be the movies, but we must somehow dream. If we don’t “go to the movies” in any form, our minds wither and sicken. – Roger Ebert
Hands down my favorite film of the year. When I first saw The Safdie Brothers’ Good Time I knew these two New York siblings were onto something special. Their mixture of early Scorsese and Cassavetes coming together with newer auteurs like Darren Aronofsky, The Duplass Brothers, and cinema verite aesthetics made for a film that felt personal, raw, and at times dangerous. With Uncut Gems the Safdies’ got their biggest budget and production yet for their film ten years in the making. Adam Sandler is incredible as the gambling addict(or adrenaline junkie or winning addict) Howard Ratner. Each scene is Ratner just on the edge of everything coming apart, but with Sandler’s energy poured into the character he skirts by just by the seat of his designer pants. At times a gritty crime thriller in the spirit of Michael Mann’s Thief, while other times a loud and expletive-filled Marx Brothers comedy on acid, Uncut Gems is filled with an amazing supporting cast(Eric Bogosian, Lakeith Stanfield, Idina Menzel, Julia Fox, and Kevin Garnett), but one that stood out the most to me was Keith William Richards’ mob heavy Phil. Looking like a more leaner and grizzled Eric Roberts, his turn in Uncut Gems is nothing short of brilliant. It’s like the guy walked right out of the world of Scorsese’s Mean Streets or Goodfellas. And the score from Daniel Lopatin is the beating heart or ticking time bomb underneath all the madness. His work here is essential to the mad, mad, mad, mad world of Howard Ratner.
Do yourself a favor and see this movie.
I really wanted to love Clair Denis’ high concept sci fi film, but I just ended up liking it for its high concept look. The acting was great and there were some truly amazing scenes, but in the end it all kind of felt incomplete. I do recommend watching High Life, though. Robert Pattinson and Mia Goth are great in it, as is Juliette Binoche as the mad scientist doing her reproductive experiments in space.
I’m thankful that I can’t relate to the divorcing couple in Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, but I can certainly empathize with them. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson play a theater couple falling apart after artistic and career differences separate them first by geography, but eventually emotionally. Baumbach has that knack for combining both intimate humor with an underlying sadness that beckons back to the best of Woody Allen, Hal Ashby, and Mike Nichols. He first hit on a failing marriage in his brilliant The Squid and the Whale, which was his experience as a child watching his own parents divorce. In Marriage Story it’s his own divorce from partner and actress Jennifer Jason Leigh that was the catalyst. The film is sweet, funny, heartbreaking, and ultimately a love letter to his own kids telling them that despite it all, mom and dad will always love you. No matter what.
What can I say about Midsommar? It’s morose and jet black and feels like downing a bottle of Robitussin before jumping from an airplane with no parachute. Ari Aster lays it all on the line in his psychedelic(and psychotic) break-up film that argues the case against toxic relationships, co-dependence, enablers, and going to Swedish/Pagan festivals. The first thing I said out loud after leaving the theater was “I don’t know if I liked that.” I then spent the next 30 minutes driving home talking about Ari Aster’s sophomore film and came to the conclusion that I did indeed like it. It was stunningly shot, perfectly acted, and took its time to give us its true madness. And really, the first ten minutes was some of the most crushingly brutal cinema I’ve seen in a long, long time.
A three and a half hour film never felt so short. I loved every minute of Martin Scorsese’s goodbye to the wise guy. Where Goodfellas was fast-paced and edited with quick cuts and freeze frames, The Irishman was a methodically paced epic that told the tale of giants and their gradual shrinking down. A transformation from powerful untouchables to old, lonely mortal men who looked back on their lives and regretted losing the loved ones around them. Scorsese made a mobster film that Ingmar Bergman or Francois Truffaut would have made.
If people are usually jaggedly divided about a film that means it’s worth seeing in my mind. Joaquin Phoenix’ turn as Arthur Fleck was one of those transformations we’ll talk about for years. Like Christian Bale in The Machinist, Robert DeNiro in Raging Bull, and nearly every film Gary Oldman has been in. One of DC Comics greatest villains gets an origin story set in the gritty world of Gotham, by way of 1981 New York. Todd Phillips makes a comic book movie that Abel Ferrara would’ve made, and though this is a comic book movie it hits on a lot of current topics regarding governmental help for those on the fringes, mental health issues, and class warfare. But push all that aside, and what you have is an incredible performance and one hell of a gritty crime movie that may or may not lead to further adventures of the Joker.
This was just a fun superhero movie that did everything those should do. It entertained, it made you laugh, and it tugged on your heartstrings just enough. Zachary Levi and Mark Strong are both great in this DC movie, and both go all in as both Shazam and Thaddeus Sivana. What more can I say? Watch it. Have fun.
Despite some story and character changes, Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep did a masterful high wire act that was both faithful to Stephen King’s novels(The Shining and Doctor Sleep) as well as to Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation. Given the dividing lines between the literary work and Kubrick’s loosely based film, satisfying both camps was no easy task. Flanagan did it and made a film with both scares and heart, as well as amazing performances by Ewan McGregor and Rebecca Ferguson.
It : Chapter Two
Andy Muschetti’s finale to his It cinematic tale was a satisfying end to what he began in 2017. The adult cast of The Losers Club fit just right, with Bill Hader and James Ransone stealing the show. Pennywise did his thing, and Muschetti did a great job of paying proper respect to the source material. Some great set pieces, and despite a little drag in the first half, the second half picks up significant speed.
Ready or Not
This was a fun film with a great performance by Samara Weaving. I loved the concept, in regards to Weaving’s character having to survive a real life and deadly game of hide and seek in order to join her fiance’s family. Though, had she survived would she really wanted to have married into that family of psychopaths? Despite some story flaws and an ending I didn’t much care for, it was still a fun movie. It did remind me of a much more enjoyable film, Adam Wingard’s You’re Next.
The House That Jack Built
Yeah I know this came out in October of 2018, but I didn’t see it till this summer. This was the most I enjoyed a Lars Von Trier film since Melancholia, and his least heavy-handed. It was like if Bergman made a serial killer film. Very intellectual, but still a visceral piece of cinema. I’ve loved Matt Dillon since I saw him in The Bodyguard when I was a kid, and he made one of the best big budget arthouse films in the last 35 years with Coppola’s Rumble Fish. His performance in Jack was phenomenal, and darkly funny. The most fun I’ve had being disgusted in years.
John Wick 3 : Parabellum
Keanu. John Wick. ‘Nuff said.
Jordan Peele is quickly becoming one of my favorite film directors. With just two under his belt, they both feel like films written and directed by a master of genre filmmaking. Us only goes to push that further.
Other movies I saw in 2019 that I enjoyed:
Avengers : Endgame
Spiderman : Far From Home
Godzilla : King of the Monsters
High Flying Bird
Under The Silver Lake
The Dead Don’t Die
El Camino : A Breaking Bad Movie
Star Wars : The Rise of Skywalker
Movies I haven’t seen yet but want to:
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
Ford Vs Ferarri
A Hidden Life
Daniel Isn’t Real
Lucy In The Sky
Dolemite Is My Name
Happy New Year. Here’s to another amazing year in cinema.