Yes, I’m kind of late on this, but on the other hand, I thought under the current situation, as the availability of new movies is bad, looking back at what was good last year might be a good idea.
This was actually harder than expected. Right now 2019 feels like a great year for movies, although I’m not very big on certain high-profile movies. Still, some difficult cuts were made. All these movies should be available for home viewing in some form or another. If I can get my hands on them in a small town in Finland, most of my readers should have no problems at all.
A sidenote: Writing this does feel kind of weird with all that’s going on in the world. I guess part of it is that this might be (and hopefully is) the biggest crisis the world will see in my lifetime, but with the situation as it is, I’m pretty much sidelined (and in the most politically stable country in the world) and can’t do much. I have donated money, but I don’t think I have the platform and the visibility to actually speak out on anything. So, while I don’t want to seem like I’m blind to what’s going on, I’m not going to get myself depressed over something I can do nothing about.
In alphabetical order, although admittedly I’m not quite sure how some of these should be alphabetized, but I’ll go with what seems obvious.
Dolemite Is My Name
They don’t make many real comedies any more. This is a biopic, but has a quite obvious humorous slant, which fits the subject of the movie, Rudy Ray Moore, quite well. Rudy Ray Moore was a comedian with ambitions, which eventually lead him into making his own movies. The first one (Dolemite), which they are making in this biopic, is actually very bad, which is probably why they took some things from Moore’s next movie (The Human Tornado), which is still bad, but actually kind of fun.
The movie is definitely related to Ed Wood in many ways (even same writers, actually), but this one doesn’t feel quite as much a fantasy as that one. They are both about someone who keeps their career going by pretty much pure enthusiasm, but Rudy actually has his finger on the pulse of his audience. I actually like this quite a bit. He doesn’t really care about making movies to the well-served white middle classes, but instead he wants to make something for the people who come to his shows. As some character puts it in the movie, he won’t be able to show the movie to anyone outside of the five blocks worth of people he knows, but Moore retorts that every city in the country has those same five blocks. And Dolemite was actually a pretty big hit. It made around $12 million on a budget of $100k. That’s 120 times the budget.
Eddie Murphy actually feels like he cares here, which hasn’t happened in quite a while. You can find the movie on Netflix, although this is one of those movies I wish I could get a physical copy of. (Critetion, please.)
Fighting with My Family
I used to follow wrestling quite a bit, until it became a bit too real after the double murder by and suicide of Chris Benoit. And it didn’t help that Eddie Guerrero had just died not long before. But I decided to give this chance, because I like many of the people involved (Stephen Merchant and Florence Pugh being the most visible, but also Nick Frost, Lena Headey and, of course, The Rock). It was definitely worth it.
It’s another biopic, but this time of someone who was actually 26 at time, which actually seems pretty premature, but on the other hand, Paige was a key figure in bringing back women’s wrestling, which had been a joke full of T&A for a very long time despite some talented individuals involved with it, so perhaps this was an opportune time to make this film, even if it didn’t manage to find as big an audience as one would hope for such a movie.
As the name implies, the movie is actually more about the family dynamics. Paige comes from a family of wrestlers, who actually run their own small promotion. Paige has a brother, who shared the dream of joining WWE, but couldn’t make it and this caused drama. All this could have felt forced, but I was invested enough in the characters to actually care, which is why you get the right people for your movie.
Weirdly enough, this was a WWE Studios production. I guess in some ways it’s obvious, but the thing is that historically they’ve made a lot of bad-to-mediocre action movies, most of which go straigh-to-DVD (there is another exception to this called Oculus, which is a pretty good horror movie).
Gisaengchung aka Parasite
Do I have to say anything about this? If you haven’t seen it yet, what’s wrong with you?
I’ll say this much: Economic inewuality was a big theme last year. There’s two more movies on this list where it comes up and there were other good ones that were contenders (actually quite a few: Bacurau, Joker, Us and even Little Women in some ways, although that’s more of feminist movie). That does tell you that this is now something our society is really interested in and it was in some ways a harbinger of what’s happening in the world as of this writing.
J’ai perdu mon corps aka I Lost My Body
Another Netflix movie. I’m not sure how much I should describe this as it’s shown in two different timelines: one before the accident and one after the accident, where the hand of our main character (or I guess the hand is the main character) is trying to find it’s host.
It’s an animation with a style very different from what we usually see these days in bigger budget movies. It’s a bit odd in the sense that the guy is a bit creepy as he stalks the woman he falls for. Falling for the woman is good for him, as he then finally finds the courage to take control of his own life.
The adventures of the hand and the guy are two very different movies wrapped into one. The hand’s journey is full of perils, while the guy’s life is more about his struggles with growing up and finding independence. I do think the movie is somewhat more conservative in it’s thinking than I would like, but it manages to be cute enough to for me to enjoy it immensely.
One of your run of the mill movies about a kid with Hitler as his imaginary friend, who finds a jewish girl hidden in his house by his mother. Taika Waititi mentioned in his post-Oscar-win (for the adapted screenplay) that while getting the statue was nice, he was actually proud of having received an approving nod from Mel Brooks (I don’t remember what he said exactly, but I’m sure you can find it on YouTube). I do think it’s funny that the guy who did What We Do in the Shadows and Thor 3 is now an Oscar winner. Which is actually great, because the movie is great.
Of course it was sold as a comedy, which it is, but it’s also a piece of great visual storytelling on film. I think the most memorable thing is the characters, though. Many of the supporting roles are just great. Sam Rockwell’s disillusioned German officer, Stephen Merchant’s boring bureaucrat turned into SS officer and Rebel Wilson’s extremely fanatic army office worker bring a weird lightness to the Nazi regime, making the whole thing laughable without losing sight on how deadly these people actually were.
I’m also a soft touch on anything David Bowie…
Continuing with the theme of economic disparity here. Harlan Thromby, a prominent writer of mystery novels, has killed himself, but it appears that not everyone believes that, as someone has contracted Benoit Blanc, a famous private investigator. Well, it turns out that someone was correct. It was actually an accident, which Thromby and his nurse tried to cover up. The thing is, the nurse is such a good-hearted person that she can’t lie without feeling so disgusted with herself that she’s going to throw up.
The whole thing is a great subversion on the form of these kinds of movies. Columbo would always tell us the killer in the beginning and we would see the episodes from their point of view, but this goes a step further. Our sympathies are on the side of the killer. We don’t want her to get caught.
The movie has fun characters, but in the end it’s liberties taken in the script that raise it into a great movie. It’s also very helpful that Ana de Armas feels like a great fit into the role she was given and I’m actually somewhat disappointed that she’s apparently not coming back in the sequel.
A new lighthouse keeper is trying to maintain his sanity, while his colleague-slash-boss seems to already have lost his.
Much of the time we don’t really know what’s going on, but that’s the point. There’s dreams and hallucinations, but the environment is making it worse. The contant wind and a foghorn tell us as the audience of the constant barrage on the senses of these men.
Of course, the visuals of the movie are more memorable, even they are less interesting in the end. Both the black-and-white photography and the old style aspect ratio are kind of important to the movie. They could easily be seen as gimmicks, but they fit into the feel of the movie perfectly.
A relationship movie disguised as a horror film. The horror elements are quite interesting though, as they are quite unconventional. Instead of being dark and violent, the bad guys of the movie (besides the boyfriend) are mostly just happy pagans following their ancient religion. What could go wrong? Sure, they sacrifice some obviously willing people early in the movie, but all of this is very different from the desperate tone of the first scene of the movie (and it’s weird that I’m actually hesitent about spoiling something that early, but since it’s quite impactful as a surprise, I’m not going say anything about it).
There is a certain element of elitism in play, as the students seem to be quite interested in the workings of the religion from a very superficial and egoistic point of view. They are willing to break the rules just to get what they want. And even though they are in mortal danger, we also symphatize with our heroine (in some ways), who is in a weird position of being in a very unhappy relationship, but also needing that relationship due to the events early in the movie.
Portrait de la jeune fille en feu aka Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Marianne is asked to join Heloise to accompany her on her walks on an isolated island. In reality Marianne has been asked to paint a portrait of Heloise in secret, so that Heloise’s mother can marry her off to someone based on the image. While the mother is gone and the two are left on their own (with a servant), they fall for each other.
It’s a quite melancholy movie. We sort of know that the whole thing won’t end happily for the pair, but at least they’ll have this memory, which I feel is a good thing. Although I don’t really know about the historical accuracy of the movie as it feels very modern and even somewhat of a fantasy. Marianne is very independent, while Heloise longs for her freedom. Neither is happy with the place society would force them into. Marianne has just managed to escape her traditional role, but she also has fewer opportunities in her chosen profession than her male counterparts.
It’s also a very beautiful movie. The landscape on the island are quite barren, but that’s a great reminder of the isolation Heloise is experiencing.
Ready or Not
Again with the economic disparity. Like Knives Out, this is a fun movie, except that probably on pure entertainment value, this is the best movie of last year.
Grace is about to marry herself into a rich family, except that the movie doesn’t seem to concern her that much. It’s more about finding something to belong to. Her fiancé is somewhat hesitent, but doesn’t really voice his fears. As it turns out, there is a game each new member of the family has to play and Grace selects Hide and Seek randomly. Turns out that it might not be that random and the malevolent spirit that’s keeping up the family’s fortune has chosen her to be a sacrifice, because it sees that she’s a good person. A night of carnage ensues.
Samara Weaving was hesitent about taking the role out of fear of being typecast. While this is perfectly understandable, I don’t think being typecast into great movies is that bad. Like Ana de Armas previously, she is just a person, who we can symphatize with. She’s put into a difficult situation to navigate.
While I often like ambiguous endings (as this list has probably shown already), this does have the most satisfying finale I’ve seen in a long while. The upbeat, if now quite ominous, song is a nice touch.