Popgap Diary:
2019 in Review

Written by dorrk
01 February 2020
Popgap Diary: 2019 in Review

2019: Under the Silver Screen

134 releases from 2019……Ranked from best to worst

Up until last month, I had a rather dour sense of 2019 as a movie year. While it presented plenty of movies that I liked quite a bit, it seemed short on those special movies that transcend formula and genre to deliver a uniquely memorable and emotionally gratifying keepsake that will linger with me for years afterward; or, rather, that the movies which came closest to filling that need for me also disappointed me in some substantial way. However, if I compare 2019 to the three previous years, there's very little variation in quality among my favorites of each year.

Looking at my Top 25 movies from each year in the span of 2016-2019, my #1 movies have charted between 90%-96% on my Flickchart and #25 somewhere in the more narrow range of 73%-76%. The average rankings of my top 25 for each year huddle close together between 80%-84%. The year 2019 did only offer two movies that beat that 90% threshold, whereas 2018 put three new movies in my top 10%, 2017 four, and 2016 had an incredible five movies that made it into that upper echelon, so maybe the distribution of 2019 was weighted more toward the solidly good rather than the uniquely exceptional. And yet, toward the end of the year I found myself re-watching some of my favorites of 2019, and I rarely re-watch movies in such a short time span. Partly, this was an effort to see if I had missed something on the first viewing; and four out of my five re-watches did move up after their second viewing.

What follows is a list of the 130+ movies I watched that gained wide or digital release in the U.S. during 2019, with mini-reviews, comments and screenshots for the Top 25, and after that, wherever I feel like it.

Under the Silver Lake (2018)

Under the Silver Lake (2018)

Flickcharted: #297 (94.60%)
Dir.: David Robert Mitchell

From my Letterboxd review in January 2019:

"Weird and kind of wonderful extravagant faux-mystery, kind of like if a character from Richard Linklater's Slacker re-made Altman's The Long Goodbye as a third-hand homage to De Palma's homages to Hitchcock. Sometimes goofy, always artificial, and sometimes laden with a dark surrealism that echoes David Lynch, David Robert Mitchell's oddball creation exudes a unique sensibility that is wholly refreshing and, while frequently nonsensical, seems to capture with poignancy and perception the current absurd cultural moment. A lot of people will hate this, and I can't fault them for it; I loved every unnecessarily long minute of it — and this marks the first time I've actually enjoyed an Andrew Garfield performance."

A year later, and watched a second time, and it's still my favorite movie of 2019, with its oddly hilarious paranoid conspiracy spanning hobo codes and consumerism, satirizing the collapse of hipster nihilism and its subsequent desperation for mystery and meaning. Under the Silver Lake is an epic of idiosyncrasy, nonsense and captures perfectly the spirit of 2019.

Leto (2018)

Leto (2018)

Flickcharted: #391 (91.70%)
Dir.: Kirill Serebrennikov

This Russian musical drama is set in the Leningrad punk/new wave scene of the early 1980s, as the Soviets try to co-opt the appeal of rock music to reinforce Communist ideals to young people, but the musicians have other ideas.

Shot gorgeously in black-and-white, and with great musical sequences, it's almost like Cold War meets Sing Street. I didn't realize until after it was over that it's (controversially) based on real Russian bands, Zoopark and Kino. It mostly avoids the cliches of rock band movies, and features a fine performance from Irina Starshenbaum, who is like a Russian clone of Mary Elizabeth Winstead. I found it surprisingly fresh and a moving rumination on the tension between the energetic expression of rock music and the limitations of politics and personal relationships.

Click here for LETO's performance of The Talking Heads' "Psychokiller."

Monos (2019)

Monos (2019)

Flickcharted: #540 (88.42%)
Dir.: Alejandro Landes

Riveting drama set in the mountains of Colombia as a FARK-like rebellion entrusts a valued hostage to a militia of confused teenagers. Think Nocturama meets American Honey. An organically unfolding narrative captured with maximum honesty and cinematic beauty.

Midsommar (2019)

Midsommar (2019)

Flickcharted: #573 (87.87%)
Dir.: Ari Aster

From my Letterboxd review, July 2019:

"For the second film in a row, director Ari Aster shows a strong instinct for the emotional truth of horror, but this time works out a few more — but not all — of the kinks in his storytelling. The premise of Midsommar is fairly obvious — idealized commune has darkness lurking beneath its cheery facade — but Aster and star Florence Pugh make it work in conjunction with a palpable sense of isolating loss. While Aster's impulses serve him better here than they did during the scattered last act of Hereditary, there's still a sense that he doesn't fully think through his creatively realized world building. There are too many conflicting details if one bothers to think about them, but the strengths of Midsommar's delightful production design, thorough performances and satisfyingly challenging finale have kept me from dwelling on its problems."

After a second viewing in January 2020 (the longer Director's Cut), I not only have fewer reservations, but I wholly buy into Aster's use of the Hårga rituals to explore loss, grief,  community and self-discovery, and Pugh's performance is a spectacle of pain, empathy and release. A gloriously cathartic film.

Marriage Story (2019)

Marriage Story (2019)

Flickcharted: #636 (86.36%)
Dir.: Noah Baumbach

Emotionally grueling, impeccably written, Scarlett Johansson tying shoes again, and Adam Driver singing Sondheim's "Being Alive." This is peak Baumbach.

Waves (2019)

Waves (2019)

Flickcharted: #664 (85.93%)
Dir.: Trey Edward Shults

In a 180-degree turn from the slow dread of It Comes at Night, Trey Edward Shults captures the vibrant poetry of life, full of sound and color.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019)

The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019)

Flickcharted: #666 (85.59%)
Dir.: Joe Talbot

A powerful movie, with a very specific vision from first-time feature director Joe Talbot and with a great performance from first-time feature film actor Jimmie Fails, who also co-wrote the story based on his own family history in San Francisco. Tonally, it's deliberate and funereal, similar in some ways to last year's great If Beale Street Could Talk and the more plaintive sections of Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing. At first, I thought its comparative lack of energy and sense of purpose was a failing, but by the last act, I no longer cared about the time it took to settle into its groove.

Little Women (2019)

Little Women (2019)

Flickcharted: #682 (85.55%)
Dir.: Greta Gerwig

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

Flickcharted: #738 (84.35%)
Dir.: Céline Sciamma

My favorite colors of 2019 were all in this movie about a painter and her subject enjoying the freedom of sensual experience.

Parasite (2019)

Parasite (2019)

Flickcharted: #741 (84.20%)
Dir.: Joon-ho Bong

The last thing anyone needs is one more rave about Parasite, so I'll qualify my praise by saying that it's a lesser, genre-fied take on the same kind of class issues covered last year in Koreeada's Shoplifters. Watch that.

In the past, I've found Bong Joon-ho's social commentary too blunt and cartoonish; I don't know that Parasite is necessarily sharper, but at least this time the sensational elements Bong uses to explore his ideas are more distracting, fun, complex and coherent.

Parasite is Bong at his best: surprising, careful, poignant, and shocking; and there's even some welcome nuance to his unavoidable didacticism. Does it all fall apart during the haywire events of the climax? Possibly. Does the epilogue make any sense? At least partially, of course not. Did it make me hungry for Ram-don with Sirloin? Definitely.

Once Upon a Time in... Hollywood (2019)

Once Upon a Time in... Hollywood (2019)

Flickcharted: #750 (83.98%)
Dir.: Quentin Tarantino

July 2019 Review:

This is a tricky one. I feel about it the same way I felt about P.T. Anderson's The Master: Lots of memorable moments and sharply drawn characters on a dazzling canvas, but an overall sense of something narratively still laying there undiscovered. I liked watching it quite a bit, but something essential to it just did not "work."

I think, at its heart, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood wants to be about the fantasies that movie-making promises: A beautiful woman can become a beloved star in a whirlwind of adoration; a has-been can come back; a nobody can be a hero; darkness can be vanquished; and, on a meta-level, the world can be transformed through movies into an idealized past.

A lot of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood in spent in old cars driving past immaculately recaptured period Los Angeles. Forget feet — those are there, too — this is Tarantino's real fetish. It should get old, but it somehow doesn't, as he dwells too conspicuously on the fantastic work of his production design and costume departments.

And, yet, there's a surprising sloppiness to how Tarantino crafts the story, especially with the narrative change it takes in the final third. Maybe it will grow on me more, as I'll certainly watch this again, and probably more than twice, but there was definitely a sense in the moment that he whiffed a major part of his ninth movie.

January 2020 Review:

My second viewing of this sprawling personal epic reinforces my initial reactions: As loving and arresting and ultimately cathartic and moving as it is, Tarantino should've put this through 2 or 3 more script drafts and been more ruthless with his editing. I can imagine some arguments in favor of the often redundant narration during the final act, but none that excuse its clumsiness. I want to love this movie more than I can, and I'm often pretty moved by listening to other movie fans talk about how much it means to them, but its essential sloppiness is hard to overcome.

Jojo Rabbit (2019)

Jojo Rabbit (2019)

Flickcharted: #759 (83.73%)
Dir.: Taika Waititi

An improbably appealing movie about Nazis aimed at kids, mixing a less-precocious variation on Wes Anderson's quirky style, some broad humor, and a genuine feeling for its characters.

Jojo Rabbit seems to have received some critical backlash for not being an angrier anti-Nazi screed, but I think that misjudges its intentions and its target audience, which is children.

Dragged Across Concrete (2018)

Dragged Across Concrete (2018)

Flickcharted: #731 (83.35%)
Dir.: S. Craig Zahler

I loved Bone Tomahawk, but was so-so on Brawl in Cell Block 99 even though there was a lot to admire in it. Dragged Across Concrete has me excited to revisit Cell Block; it's pretty great if you like slow-burn Elmore Leonard / Michael Mann-style crime stories.

I've heard a bit of criticism that it features too many scenes of guys talking about uninteresting stuff with no action, but it's a character piece at heart and I think it has a lot of empathy for a diverse and dubious collection of characters.

It's also the kind of movie that I might criticize as being just another in a long line of half-there Tarantino wannabes, but, despite similar interests (and music-triggered Jackie Brown echoes thorughout), I think S. Craig Zahler has a unique and witty voice that is just as fresh as Tarantino's, but a lot more economical (can I call a 160-minute movie economical? How about "terse?").

Anyway, this was pretty rewarding, and I'll watch the next Zahler movie immediately. 

Dogman (2018)

Dogman (2018)

Flickcharted: #837 (82.22%)
Dir.: Matteo Garrone

An unusual crime drama with a uniquely charming lead performance from Marcello Fonte.

Uncut Gems (2019)

Uncut Gems (2019)

Flickcharted: #845 (81.96%)
Dir.: Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie

Riveting gambling drama with a visceral sense of place.

Ready or Not (2019)

Ready or Not (2019)

Flickcharted: #852 (81.67%)
Dir.: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett

The excessive online hype that greets most new middling horror movies made me suspicious of whether Ready or Not would really fulfill the promise of its fun trailer. Thankfully, it exceeds that promise, delivering a dark, funny, tense and engaging thrill-ride with a consistent sense of purpose and no expected dead spots. While I might have preferred a different initial take on Samara Weaving's character Grace, she carries the movie with some style. It's also so nice to see Adam Brody again, whose performance here really should raise him out of the obscurity he's been stuck in for the past decade.

Donbass (2018)

Donbass (2018)

Flickcharted: #888 (81.08%)
Dir.: Sergey Loznitsa

Outstanding survey of the absurd misery of modern civil war, which is a natural but extreme extension of cultures of bullying.

Motherless Brooklyn (2019)

Motherless Brooklyn (2019)

Flickcharted: #928 (79.93%)
Dir.: Edward Norton

Solid old-school mystery on a big historical canvas. Ed Norton directs and stars as a character who could've been too precious, but a well-managed tone keeps everything on track. Gugu Mbatha-Raw is excellent, and with a cast rounded out by Alec Baldwin, Willem Dafoe, Michael Kenneth Williams, Bruce Willis, Leslie Mann Cherry Jones and more, there's a lot of ambition in Motherless Brooklyn, and it works, even if it falls short of its Chinatown-level aspirations.

Joker (2019)

Joker (2019)

Flickcharted: #1023 (78.11%)
Dir.: Todd Phillips

As someone who does not reserve a well of special feelings for comic book movies, this was pretty marvelous. With a fantastic Joaquin Phoenix performance at its center, Joker is emotionally stirring and both more simple humanistically and more complicated (a)politically than it has been framed by all of the pre-release criticism. To those who find the existence of a movie like Joker troubling, it's supposed to be troubling, and it's worth examining what it says about why it's troubling. Just on a cinematic level, however, it looks perfect and captures an iconic character gorgeously and with a real feeling for the essence of its subject.

Notes:

  • Too much "Batman" stuff. All of the Wayne family connections were unnecessary and lessened the movie. Stop reminding me that this is a comic book movie.
  • Disappointing need to underline an obvious delusion,
  • For a Todd Phillips movie, it strikes a surprisingly delicate balance between intimate drama and broad flair.
Us (2019)

Us (2019)

Flickcharted: #970 (77.89%)
Dir.: Jordan Peele

A debut like Get Out is hard to follow, but Jordan Peele turns in another provocative and teeth-gritting thriller with only a few missteps complicating its effectiveness. Some unneeded exposition not only saps the strength of Us' social commentary, but makes a surprisingly uninspired twist ending tough to reconcile. That aside, Peele creates several memorable and chilling scenes, with Lupita Nyong'o sinking her teeth into a meaty double role. The great Elisabeth Moss also gets a stand-out scene that produces maximum creeps.

Honeyland (2019)

Honeyland (2019)

Flickcharted: #1158 (75.28%)
Dir.: Tamara Kotevska, Ljubomir Stefanov

A documentary as riveting dramatically as it is poetic in its evocation of a rural Macedonian way of life.

Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation (2019)

Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation (2019)

Flickcharted: #1130 (75.16%)
Dir.: Barak Goodman, Jamila Ephron

Formally there's nothing interesting about this conventional look back at the famous music festival, but it ably captures the chaos and spirit of Woodstock with an abundance of excellent film footage. For anyone with a soft spot for messy counter-culture icons and/or late-60s music and/or naked hippies in mud, this hits the spot.

Climax (2018)

Climax (2018)

Flickcharted: #1167 (75.06%)
Dir.: Gaspar Noé

A vivid nightmare. Technically astounding. Impeccably choreographed. Thankfully short.

The Souvenir (2019)

Flickcharted: #1188 (74.69%)
Dir.: Joanna Hogg

Extra Ordinary (2019)

Flickcharted: #1236 (73.29%)
Dir.: Mike Ahern, Enda Loughman

Witty and sweet-natured horror comedy with Maeve Higgins in a wonderful starring performance. She's so dryly engaging, actually, that when comedy heavy Will Forte commands attention, it's tonally jarring and a little disappointing. Extremely well-made for such a small movie, and the VHS excerpts that open the film are perfect. Not only delightful, but ends on a Pulp song!

Ford v Ferrari (2019)

Flickcharted: #1283 (72.85%)
Dir.: James Mangold

The Art of Self-Defense (2019)

Flickcharted: #1264 (72.79%)
Dir.: Riley Stearns

Wry and dark comedy about how fear and violence prey on and distort ordinary people. Writer/director Riley Stearns improves on the promise he evinced with his cult-deprogrammer drama Faults and comes up with an almost sneakily unassuming laugh-out-loud absurd social commentary with more actual bite than its soft landing suggests.

The Nightingale (2018)

Flickcharted: #1260 (72.78%)
Dir.: Jennifer Kent

Or, as I like to call it, I True Grit on Your Grave.

Jennifer Kent's new movie features a great lead performance from Aisling Franciosi and scenes of shattering violence. It not only avoids exploitation, but also steers around genre narrative expectations in favor of realism just when it seems like a little satisfaction might be around another corner. Whether that's a strength or a weakness depends on what you want from The Nightingale. By the end, I'm not sure I know what Kent wanted from The Nightingale, which seems to skip through a few different endings toward a kind of stock indie final moment... Yet it still feels organic. Maybe its impact will linger more profoundly than any of the possible alternatives.

Child's Play (2019)

Flickcharted: #1384 (69.91%)
Dir.: Lars Klevberg

Sunset (2018)

Sunset (2018)

Flickcharted: #1455 (68.92%)
Dir.: László Nemes

Gorgeous, with a compelling lead performance, and a driving energy similar to Nemes' Son of Saul... but I'm not well enough schooled in Austro-Hungarian history to understand what was happening. Is she a symbol for old Budapest, searching for her place after the sudden industrial upheaval at the start of the 20th century? What is she searching for? What does she want? I kind of cared despite not knowing, and, boy, is this movie and its intricate tracking shots something to savor.

The Farewell (2019)

Flickcharted: #1459 (68.80%)
Dir.: Lulu Wang

In Fabric (2018)

In Fabric (2018)

Flickcharted: #1464 (68.73%)
Dir.: Peter Strickland

A movie of two halves, both of which sparkle with Peter Strickland's wicked wit and subversive retro-sensibility, but the second story is nowhere as focused as the first and fritters away the empathy constructed during the first hour. Still, some of the most striking images and dialog of 2019.

Deadwood: The Movie (2019)

Flickcharted: #1471 (68.72%)
Dir.: Daniel Minahan

Light of My Life (2019)

Flickcharted: #1465 (68.69%)
Dir.: Casey Affleck

Piercing (2018)

Flickcharted: #1435 (68.54%)
Dir.: Nicolas Pesce

Greener Grass (2019)

Greener Grass (2019)

Flickcharted: #1467 (68.36%)
Dir.: Jocelyn DeBoer, Dawn Luebbe

Weird, funny and unique suburban satire from directors/writers/stars Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe mixes bracingly broad absurdity with garish aesthetics and sinister edges. There are big laughs throughout Greener Grass, and very little else like it (maybe John Waters combined with David Lynch and Upright Citizen's Brigade?), but this movie's very specific tone is difficult is sustain for a full 90 minutes. The intentional ugliness wears on the eyeballs, and if there's a purpose to the craziness beyond simple lunacy, it needs to be dug out with some effort. Still, a worthy experience for fans of alt-comedy and new cult cinema.

The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)

Flickcharted: #1512 (67.59%)
Dir.: Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz

Diego Maradona (2019)

Flickcharted: #1511 (67.39%)
Dir.: Asif Kapadia

Still waiting for Oliver Stone to make the definitive biopic of one of sport's most idiotic geniuses. This doc is a good placeholder, focusing on Maradona's stint playing for the unfashionable Italian team Napoli. Great archival footage captures time, place and personality, but Asif Kapadia's approach is so cool that it never really dives deep into Maradona's self-destructive excesses, and the limited focus only allows for brief glimpses at my favorite era of Maradona's career: his weird fat failed comeback attempts (to sate that hunger, see the Netflix series, Maradona in Mexico).

Woman at War (2018)

Flickcharted: #1533 (67.33%)
Dir.: Benedikt Erlingsson

Love, Antosha (2019)

Flickcharted: #1579 (66.50%)
Dir.: Garret Price

Little Monsters (2019)

Flickcharted: #1567 (65.78%)
Dir.: Abe Forsythe

The Wild Pear Tree (2018)

Flickcharted: #1614 (65.63%)
Dir.: Nuri Bilge Ceylan

American Factory (2019)

Flickcharted: #1615 (65.62%)
Dir.: Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert

One Child Nation (2019)

Flickcharted: #1662 (64.56%)
Dir.: Nanfu Wang, Jialing Zhang

Dora and the Lost City of Gold (2019)

Flickcharted: #1682 (64.01%)
Dir.: James Bobin

Queen & Slim (2019)

Flickcharted: #1750 (62.66%)
Dir.: Melina Matsoukas

Booksmart (2019)

Flickcharted: #1666 (62.53%)
Dir.: Olivia Wilde

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019)

Flickcharted: #1734 (62.50%)
Dir.: Vince Gilligan

Unnecessary but comfortable Breaking Bad follow-up, filling in blanks that no one needed filled. Feels a bit like expert fan-faction, with its primary value the warm glow of seeing the old gang getting back together.

Transit (2018)

Flickcharted: #1760 (62.34%)
Dir.: Christian Petzold

The Wolf House (2018)

Flickcharted: #1744 (62.27%)
Dir.: Joaquín Cociña, Cristóbal León

Mesmerizing stop-motion fable that should appeal to anyone who loves the weird craft of Jan Svankmajer and other underground animators. The narrative is purposefully vague (likely a metaphor for childhood abuse) but the hauntingly quiet narration coupled with the stunning visuals is perfect nightmare fuel.

Fugue (2018)

Flickcharted: #1756 (62.16%)
Dir.: Agnieszka Smoczynska

It was always going to be hard to follow-up the audacious impact of The Lure, so Agnieszka Smoczynska goes for subtle in this mystery about a wife and mother, presumed dead, who returns with amnesia after a three-year absence. Compelling both technically and dramatically, but a little too neatly resolved with an ordinary climax that is less than its build-up.

Ash Is Purest White (2018)

Flickcharted: #1769 (61.93%)
Dir.: Zhangke Jia

Zhao Tao delivers a strong central performance in this epic Chinese drama about a relationship thrown out of sync by pride and shame. It's a confident drama from director Zhangke Jia, largely thanks to Toa's stoic presence. A few patches of purple dialog, which point too emphatically toward a theme, and another particularly oddball moment distract from rather than enhance the sense of realism that makes the rest of this movie so compelling.

The Irishman (2019)

Flickcharted: #1773 (61.82%)
Dir.: Martin Scorsese

It takes Martin Scorsese's nearly lethargic epic an entire movie's length to warm up to its purpose — the title character, who is a sort of Forrest Gump of organized crime, finds his allegiances split between his patrons in the mob and his friendship with union leader Jimmy Hoffa — at which point it delivers some mild suspense and drama before petering out into a sad old asshole waiting to die.

I didn't mind watching The Irishman. It's like putting on a pair of old shoes that still feel great but no longer function as shoes. There's a comfort to watching three great actors — De Niro, Pacino and Pesci — swim around in familiar waters, and Scorsese knows how to get the best from them. But the material here is strictly ho-hum, and despite some lively touches — Scorsese notes the grim deaths awaiting nearly every minor character as they are introduced — this is yet another Netflix original that feels like a rushed rough draft.

This is not Scorsese at the top of his game. Attempts at clever editing fall flat, the music cues are so trite I had to look up if Scorsese had used a couple of them in previous movies, major details are raised and then discarded, and there's an overriding sense of lackluster aimlessness to everything — unless one is wowed by the CGI effect of making 75-year-old men look like 65-year-old men.

I didn't not like watching The Irishman, but beyond some fine moments from the cast — Pacino is fun and Pesci is the real stand-out, but De Niro with blue eyes is one uncanny valley too far — there didn't seem to be much purpose lurking in those 200+ minutes.

Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love (2019)

Flickcharted: #1843 (60.83%)
Dir.: Nick Broomfield

Ma (2019)

Flickcharted: #1780 (60.61%)
Dir.: Tate Taylor

Octavia Spencer is fun and crazy and real. The ending doesn't have the impact intended, but this movie isn't afraid to go to dark places and is a worthy showcase for Spencer.

Honey Boy (2019)

Flickcharted: #1854 (60.42%)
Dir.: Alma Har'el

The Third Wife (2018)

Flickcharted: #1870 (59.79%)
Dir.: Ash Mayfair

Ash Mayfair's directorial debut, about a 14-year-old bride's experiences during her first year with her new family in 19th century Vietnam, has a soft, shimmering beauty that might have seemed too precious had it not perfectly complemented the quiet, observant performance of Nguyễn Phương Trà My in the title role. When Mayfair disrupts of her otherwise elegantly maintained tone, The Third Wife feels modern and trite in ways that might make an unnecessarily stronger point but which do it a disservice as a meaningful work of humanist art.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle (2018)

Flickcharted: #1855 (59.53%)
Dir.: Stacie Passon

Long Shot (2019)

Flickcharted: #1844 (59.06%)
Dir.: Jonathan Levine

Fyre (2019)

Flickcharted: #1875 (56.81%)
Dir.: Chris Smith

Stupid people.

Dolemite Is My Name (2019)

Flickcharted: #2044 (55.69%)
Dir.: Craig Brewer

Entertaining but functional biopic of comedian filmmaker Rudy Ray Moore. Just like with Ed Wood, from the same writing team, it's a loving but shallow valentine to plucky do-it-yourselfers. Unlike Ed Wood, however, this lacks the visual aspiration of prime Tim Burton. It looks and feels like a cheap TV movie. Fun to watch with all-around engaging performances even if substantively slight.

Hagazussa: A Heathen's Curse (2017)

Flickcharted: #2066 (55.68%)
Dir.: Lukas Feigelfeld

Zombi Child (2019)

Flickcharted: #2074 (55.60%)
Dir.: Bertrand Bonello

Between Two Ferns: The Movie (2019)

Flickcharted: #2020 (55.53%)
Dir.: Scott Aukerman

Pet Sematary (2019)

Flickcharted: #1983 (54.97%)
Dir.: Kevin Kölsch, Dennis Widmyer

Pet Sematary is my favorite King book; but I've only read it once and fairly early into the process of tackling 20 or so of his books over a decade ago. Even though it rambles with its diversions into the past, it's pretty focused for one of his big books, and it never undermines its creeps with silliness.

Mary Lambert's 1989 movie adaptation of Pet Sematary has some iconic touches, but also undermines itself with unintentional goofiness, with the character of Gage particularly laughable during the final act, which is absolutely the opposite of how it should be.

This new 2019 adaptation never comes close to touching the first movie's iconic highs; it's very plain. I don't know what I wanted, but more of something. Directors Kölsch and Widmyer just breeze through everything, too easily (never has disinterring one's dead daughter been so routine), only concerned, it seems, with how their version converses with Lambert's.

The new ending, however, works, and for all of its shortcomings, 2019's Pet Sematary adds a few other nice little touches that make it marginally worthwhile.

An Elephant Sitting Still (2018)

Flickcharted: #2110 (54.45%)
Dir.: Bo Hu

I finally made it through this 4-hour long suicide note, after taking a 7-month intermission. Surprisingly, the first half made a strong enough impression that it took little time (relative to this glacially paced narrative) to recall all of the plot threads running through this glum ode to terminal depression. Director Bo Hu paints contemporary China as a soulless wasteland hollowed out by generations of family dysfunction, flavored only by shame, resentment, scapegoating, and futile explosions of frustration and aimless rage. "It's always been like this," is the only answer Hu has to offer, and does so with a tone of such deliberate droning hopelessness that it borders on the humorlessly absurd. Technically accomplished, but too infused with the pointlessness it depicts.

Into the Dark: Pilgrim (2019)

Flickcharted: #2184 (52.92%)
Dir.: Marcus Dunstan

Shows its cheapness a little too much, but enormous credit for diving deep and dark into its catchy premise and not shying away from gnarly potential. Reign Edwards has a good future ahead of her based on this evidence.

Luce (2019)

Flickcharted: #2219 (52.46%)
Dir.: Julius Onah

Night Comes On (2018)

Flickcharted: #2245 (52.31%)
Dir.: Jordana Spiro

Hustlers (2019)

Flickcharted: #2239 (51.77%)
Dir.: Lorene Scafaria

Ad Astra (2019)

Flickcharted: #2292 (51.42%)
Dir.: James Gray

Sword of Trust (2019)

Flickcharted: #2268 (51.15%)
Dir.: Lynn Shelton

Amusing lightweight comedy from Lynn Shelton dances around the provocative issues raised by its scenario -- graceful co-existence with racism, the weight of discovering alternative "facts," the ethics of non-ideological capitalism -- and doesn't really grapple with them, but blithely nods at them as it skips along. It's too easy, but maybe also the right choice, as it avoids the smug didacticism that often comes with lesson movies. Good but unexceptional stuff from Marc Maron, Michaela Watkins and Toby Huss.

Capernaum (2018)

Flickcharted: #2302 (51.00%)
Dir.: Nadine Labaki

The Death of Dick Long (2018)

Flickcharted: #2343 (50.39%)
Dir.: Daniel Scheinert

Crawl (2019)

Flickcharted: #2239 (50.26%)
Dir.: Alexandre Aja

Leaving Neverland (2019)

Flickcharted: #2180 (50.13%)
Dir.: Dan Reed

Wine Country (2019)

Flickcharted: #2217 (50.12%)
Dir.: Amy Poehler

Atlantics (2019)

Flickcharted: #2345 (49.75%)
Dir.: Mati Diop

Knives Out (2019)

Flickcharted: #2396 (48.75%)
Dir.: Rian Johnson

Pain and Glory (2019)

Flickcharted: #2410 (48.57%)
Dir.: Pedro Almodóvar

Birds of Passage (2018)

Flickcharted: #2430 (48.31%)
Dir.: Cristina Gallego, Ciro Guerra

Rafiki (2018)

Flickcharted: #2513 (46.52%)
Dir.: Wanuri Kahiu

A Rainy Day in New York (2019)

Flickcharted: #2593 (44.32%)
Dir.: Woody Allen

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

Flickcharted: #2500 (43.79%)
Dir.: Michael Dougherty

Good Boys (2019)

Flickcharted: #2599 (43.71%)
Dir.: Gene Stupnitsky

Some big laughs in this crude tween adventure, but they're mostly obvious, and the movie's layer of sentimentality feels imposed by external nostalgia rather than emanating from the characters. Good young cast.

Ladyworld (2018)

Flickcharted: #2597 (43.69%)
Dir.: Amanda Kramer

An all-girl riff on Lord of the Flies with private school girls trapped inside a house with some sort of apocalyptic event happening outside. The cast is very good, and it's consistently interesting with a compelling tone, but it's also inscrutable at times, as if the filmmakers were winging it. It's very possible that the cast and crew gathered in this location and came up with everything on-the-fly. This results in some neat moments but also a lot of dead space that lacks clear intention.

Notes:

  • The characters are the least resourceful problem solvers. Is this realism or an unforgivable insult to teen girls?
  • The a capella score is annoying but effective.
  • Some of the actions seem driven more by aesthetics than character motivation, like the ending tableau. You never forget that you're watching an indie film clawing for art.

Annabelle Comes Home (2019)

Flickcharted: #2595 (42.63%)
Dir.: Gary Dauberman

Fun, mild, contained haunted house movie with the omnipresent child actor McKenna Grace. Certainly the best in the Annabelle series so far, thanks largely to its cast.

Can mainstream horror movies please find a replacement for the "screaming kid being pulled backwards" jump-scare? It's been played out.

Brightburn (2019)

Flickcharted: #2670 (41.32%)
Dir.: David Yarovesky

Happy Death Day 2U (2019)

Flickcharted: #2685 (39.38%)
Dir.: Christopher Landon

Hotel Mumbai (2018)

Flickcharted: #2904 (38.47%)
Dir.: Anthony Maras

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile (2019)

Flickcharted: #2753 (37.91%)
Dir.: Joe Berlinger

Our Time (2018)

Flickcharted: #2950 (37.39%)
Dir.: Carlos Reygadas

Adopt a Highway (2019)

Flickcharted: #2918 (37.08%)
Dir.: Logan Marshall-Green

Small indie drama with nice performance by Ethan Hawke. Suffers a little from a low-key lack of ambition; still, it gets Logan Marshall-Green off to a competent start as a director.

Wild Rose (2018)

Flickcharted: #2955 (36.75%)
Dir.: Tom Harper

Daniel Isn't Real (2019)

Flickcharted: #3005 (36.27%)
Dir.: Adam Egypt Mortimer

Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

Flickcharted: #2882 (35.64%)
Dir.: Jon Watts

Rambo: Last Blood (2019)

Flickcharted: #3038 (33.20%)
Dir.: Adrian Grunberg

Stallone must've walked out of a double feature of You Were Never Really Here and Home Alone and said, "Hey, yo, Adrian: doncha think botha deez mooviez woulda been better if Rambo wuz in 'em?"

There's never a moment in Rambo: Last Blood where the filmmaking rises above barely competent — which is a surprise, given Adrian Grunberg's impressive 2012 debut Get the Gringo — and with only a half-hour remaining seems like a total misconception. But then comes what can only be described as the goriest Wile E. Coyote adventure ever filmed. Even this climax is clumsily put together — with every pending death telegraphed too clearly and the digital effects barely improved from the previous Rambo movie in 2008 — but its absurd overkill had me laughing as loud as any comedy this year.

Stay for the highlights montage during the end credits, in remembrance of Rambo's once-glorious mane of hair, and his movies that were only partially terrible.

Burn (2019)

Flickcharted: #3101 (32.81%)
Dir.: Mike Gan

A promising indie thriller from writer/director Mike Gan, with a fun central performance from Tilda Cobham-Hervey, who exudes the mousy mischief of Amanda Plummer and the startled trauma of Mia Farrow. The amusing script, however, unravels with some iffy plotting and difficult turns. Even if it's not completely satisfying, it's engaging and I'll watch more Mike Gan movies in the future.

Notes:

I sincerely appreciate how Josh Hutcherson seems to have willfully chosen to spend all of his Hunger Games clout on fun low-budget exploitation. I get the sense that he simply loves genre movies and revels in these opportunities. Good job, Josh!

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? (2019)

Flickcharted: #3161 (32.09%)
Dir.: Richard Linklater

The Fanatic (2019)

Flickcharted: #3082 (32.05%)
Dir.: Fred Durst

Dave Made a Maze (2017)

Flickcharted: #3215 (31.78%)
Dir.: Bill Watterson

Freaks (2018)

Flickcharted: #3185 (31.67%)
Dir.: Zach Lipovsky, Adam B. Stein

The Furies (2019)

Flickcharted: #3178 (31.63%)
Dir.: Tony D'Aquino

There's a neat convoluted premise in this lo-fi merging of Dangerous Game-style sporting adventure and slasher movies, and director Tony D'Aquino works efficiently within the limitations of his budget to make something modest and divertingly gory out of it. Airlie Dodds is quite good as Kayla; however, Linda Ngo would struggle to find a more annoying take on a character that was probably misconceived from the start. On Shudder.

Relaxer (2018)

Flickcharted: #3203 (30.66%)
Dir.: Joel Potrykus

Strange effort from Buzzard director Joel Potrykus and his muse Joshua Burge, with an idea that is both mundane and functionally inexplicable. Potrykus once again strikes a repellently addictive tone despite an almost aggressive incredibility and squalor. As Relaxer progresses, its essential purposelessness fails to maintain the hypnotic grip on the viewer, but its WTF ending is worth hanging around for.

A very weird movie, especially when approached from a distance: these people spent all of the time and effort it takes to make a movie making *this*?

Dark Waters (2019)

Flickcharted: #3261 (30.62%)
Dir.: Todd Haynes

1917 (2019)

Flickcharted: #3260 (30.56%)
Dir.: Sam Mendes

I do like it when a movie features a character giving advice that I wish the director would've taken to heart. Mark Strong says something like, "It's best not to dwell on it." All Mendes knows is how to dwell on things that need no further emphasis. From the opening shot of the hand held out, preciously pausing so that we know that this movie is dealing in childrens' picture book emotions of the worst Spielbergian instincts.

A technical achievement, sure, but long shots aren't really that novel any longer. Just this month I've watched Sunset, Climax and Uncut Gems, all of which make dazzling use of the same technique but don't feel the need to constantly draw your attention to it and beg for praise (and tears).

Maybe the worst acting of any major "awards" release in years. Makes Green Book look like a sophisticated drama that appreciates its audience's intelligence.

High Life (2018)

Flickcharted: #3243 (29.81%)
Dir.: Claire Denis

High Life feels like a purposeful work of art, but is it? Artfully made, with the always interesting Robert Pattinson and a knack for provocation, but whatever interested Claire Denis in this project completely escaped me. As dystopian sci-fi goes, it feels both too sterile and too intentionally shocking, with no recognizable humanity or thematic purpose to make any of it matter. The moments between Pattinson and his daughter hint at lives worth confronting, but they are too few, and the rest of it feels manufactured to emptily impress.

Bait (2019)

Flickcharted: #3307 (29.70%)
Dir.: Mark Jenkin

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)

Flickcharted: #3229 (28.51%)
Dir.: André Øvredal

Doctor Sleep (2019)

Flickcharted: #3311 (28.49%)
Dir.: Mike Flanagan

I consider myself a Mike Flanagan fan; I like how he understands people and zeroes in on the humanity of horror in his projects. And I think that's what he's going for here, but misses the target in profound ways. One of the great things about his Haunting of Hill House series was how it dealt with grief. That's kind of been a recurring theme in most of his work. However, a lot of the humanity in Doctor Sleep felt false. That's maybe the biggest of many obstacles I think the movie fails to overcome.

There's a lot of trauma in Doctor Sleep, including some nice early scenes in which adult Danny helps ease the transition of dying hospice patients. However, Flanagan uncharacteristically doesn't seem to know what do when it comes to the trauma experienced by key characters. Danny's childhood trauma is packed away early and never satisfyingly dealt with later; death touches other principle characters later in the movie, with little acknowledgment. Weirdly, the dying villains are given more release than is afforded to the non-villains. Something in the balance of Doctor Sleep just seems off.

Part of the problem with Doctor Sleep is the two main performances, by Ewan McGregor and Kyliegh Curran. I don't feel like I dislike McGregor, but I've never really liked a movie that has featured him in a major role. His American accent is wrong, flat, and holds him back, I think. Curran, in her film debut, seems like a remarkably good TV actor for her age. She's too emphatic, in a way that feels false on the bigger canvas of film. As the main villain, Rebecca Ferguson is a real, breathing live-wire compared to her stiff adversaries, but she's handicapped by a problem that is out of Flanagan's hands and goes right to the source material.

While the concept of Doctor Sleep is not without merits, as a sequel to The Shining it just seems.... weird. It expands a previously claustrophobic family nightmare into a sprawling occult adventure, with plucky psychics making interstate battle against a cult of vampires who dress like The Travelling Wilburys and who keep the souls of their victims in what look like Sharper Image travel mugs. The whole "True Knot" story-line feels very much like an unused (and outdated) idea for another novel — something more like True Blood fanfic than classic King — dropped on top of the shadows of an iconic story.

As long as Kubrick's film version of The Shining is kept in the shadows, this isn't so problematic. The low-key echoes of Shelley Duvall and Scatman Crothers early on are kind of nice, but the more Doctor Sleep digs into the original movie, the cracks start to show in unpleasant ways. Flanagan recreates several moments from the original movie with affection and attention to detail, but the sinister edges and hypnotic undercurrent simply aren't there. It begins to feel like kids dressing up in old costumes that don't quite fit, and as much as Doctor Sleep looks like The Shining at times, it never comes close to recreating its essence. It can only be considered very risky to even try to recreate Jack Nicholson's iconic performance without using Nicholson himself; substituting the kid from E.T. in that role is a complete flub, no matter his talent. It might not have been a problem if Flanagan had not tried so hard to evoke the original movie, which simply draws more attention to the staggering gulf in accomplishments. Even granting that Doctor Sleep is sort of interesting at times, with some good moments, and its heart in the right place despite partially unsuccessful casting, it's kind of like following up a gourmet 7-course meal with half of an ordinary grilled cheese sandwich and three fruit Tic-Tacs. The effort involved in calling both of them "dinner" seems foolhardy.

I can't say I really disliked Doctor Sleep, at least not for the first two acts. Jacob Tremblay's scene is potent, and there a few thrills here and there with a sincere attempt at telling a character-based story at its core. But it never feels like The Shining, or a necessary or organic extension of The Shining, despite constant emphatic reminders of those essential failures. We talk a lot about "The Uncanny Valley" when it comes to digital version of actors, but Doctor Sleep finds that same valley between this sequel and its predecessor, and between its performers and their characters. It's not bad, it's just different enough to be wrong.

Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Flickcharted: #3173 (28.20%)
Dir.: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

The Curse of La Llorona (2019)

Flickcharted: #3352 (27.10%)
Dir.: Michael Chaves

The Plagiarists (2019)

Flickcharted: #3316 (27.07%)
Dir.: Peter Parlow

It: Chapter Two (2019)

Flickcharted: #3356 (26.03%)
Dir.: Andy Muschietti

Satanic Panic (2019)

Flickcharted: #3416 (24.96%)
Dir.: Chelsea Stardust

Judy (2019)

Flickcharted: #3539 (24.88%)
Dir.: Rupert Goold

The Beach Bum (2019)

Flickcharted: #3545 (23.45%)
Dir.: Harmony Korine

Harmony Korine's attempt at a Cheech & Chong-style comedy is front-loaded with time-wasting indulgence, but, following a surprising turn, settles on broad farce despite no change-up in style. It's, expectedly, a weird experience, that only really redeems itself with its poetic final scene. Good soundtrack, for the most part. Korine seems to have a discovered a comfortable sub-genre niche for himself: "Assholes misbehave on beaches;" but in just two movies has wrung it bone-dry.

The Mustang (2019)

Flickcharted: #3615 (23.25%)
Dir.: Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre

Captain Marvel (2019)

Flickcharted: #3430 (21.44%)
Dir.: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck

I'm already several movies past caring about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and this new chapter didn't do anything to revive my interest.

Brie Larson is a far better actress than she is a movie star, and I'm not sure she's the right choice here, but her smaller presence is a welcome change as much as her lack of swagger hurts at other times.

As for the movie's messaging, it drowns some potentially provocative concepts with over-aggressive and arguably condescending preening. Directorially, it's flat, and at times seems kind of embarrassed by its own tropes. The same old jokes are delivered with the least enthusiasm possible, and even the now-obligatory "cool soundtrack" music queues seem to be played at half-volume and fade out too soon.

Groupers (2019)

Flickcharted: #3720 (20.48%)
Dir.: Anderson Cowan

The Golden Glove (2019)

Flickcharted: #3760 (20.03%)
Dir.: Fatih Akin

American Woman (2019)

Flickcharted: #3778 (19.72%)
Dir.: Jake Scott

Wounds (2018)

Flickcharted: #3814 (19.23%)
Dir.: Babak Anvari

The Standoff at Sparrow Creek (2018)

Flickcharted: #3857 (17.21%)
Dir.: Henry Dunham

Slice (2018)

Flickcharted: #3712 (17.11%)
Dir.: Austin Vesely

Her Smell (2018)

Flickcharted: #3897 (16.12%)
Dir.: Alex Ross Perry

By taking the final act of the cliched Star is Born-style "musical genius derailed by drugs struggles with comeback" and stretching it out into over two hours of Cassavettes-humping indulgence, writer/director Alex Ross Perry not only films one of our greatest contemporary actresses, Elisabeth Moss, in constant free-fall and slow-motion splat on the pavement, but he also makes me hate music a little bit. The immediately tiresome hyper-improvvy actoring of preposterously overwritten and agonizingly purple dialog is both technically impressive and relentlessly annoying. Still, I was surprised at how moving the final act of Her Smell turns out -- it is not only undeserved but moreso uninspired -- maybe Moss is just that good, or it was just relief that this excruciating movie was finally over.

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (2019)

Flickcharted: #3982 (14.13%)
Dir.: Chad Stahelski

Although this third movement in the John Wick franchise features some of its best hand-to-hand combat, I had my fill of it in part 2. It's a movie that is so derivative of video games that are derivative of movies, and so up the ass of its asinine mythology, that it's hard to latch on to anything that matters. The original provocation -- dead dog, stolen car -- seem so remote from the absurd "High Table" soap opera, that the title hero is indistinguishable from the often faceless villains, and if there's a reason to care who wins which kick fight, it's beyond me. It doesn't help that the enormous middle section of John Wick 3 seems to be of no consequence whatsoever, bogging down a movie that is at least 40 minutes too long.

Glass (2019)

Flickcharted: #3917 (11.82%)
Dir.: M. Night Shyamalan

Itsy Bitsy (2019)

Flickcharted: #4020 (11.75%)
Dir.: Micah Gallo

The Bad Seed (2018)

Flickcharted: #4144 (11.66%)
Dir.: Rob Lowe

Escape Room (2019)

Flickcharted: #4219 (9.09%)
Dir.: Adam Robitel

Some neat concepts in some of the rooms, but as a slightly hostile agnostic to the idea of escape rooms in the first place, I brought a handicap that no typically dumb middling mainstream horror was likely to overcome. Whatever; I'm old now. Get off my lawn. Taylor Russell has a good presence (and was excellent in Waves this year); I'd watch a sequel just for her.

The Amazing Johnathan Documentary (2019)

Flickcharted: #4203 (7.48%)
Dir.: Benjamin Berman