Debriefing 2019: Favorites So Far & What's to Come
Updated: Jan 3, 2020
I'm gonna be honest, I've been kind of let down by 2019. While I've liked most of the ten films I've seen, save for a disappointing horror film, only one of them has really knocked my socks off, so to say. Most of the others have been good to fine, but nothing special. And since AMC Stubs A-List isn't the most practical option for me at the moment and movie subscription cards have burned up in a Wicker Man bonfire of litigation and "disruption," bad press drove me away from anticipated summer films like Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Men in Black International. And I also missed out on some great indies like Booksmart and Wild Rose and the much-talked-about John Wick Chapter 3 and Us. So these may very well be the antidote to this mild apathy I'm feeling.
Still, I wanted to reflect on the year in film thus far and share some of the ones I'm looking forward to in this latter half that'll give it a shot of adrenaline for the last stretch.
BEST OF 2019 SO FAR
As mentioned earlier, I missed a good amount of early-year films I intended on catching or later regretted missing. And while Toy Story 4 and Ari Aster's Midsommar are now playing and very much on my watchlist, I haven't seen them yet and so won't include them here. A couple of Netflix Originals are also on the backlog, so if you think it inconceivable, dear reader, that I would not be a Unicorn Store or Always Be My Maybe stan, you know why they are absent. These are my top five so far:
1. Avengers: Endgame
The conclusion of the first eleven years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Spider-Man's European Vacation is more of a bridge than a finale) was a memorable and shocking finale that never forgot its characters in the spectacle and series finale fanservice. So many creative decisions - including time travel and an early pivotal death - were unusual and made it clear anything could happen. And while I think Thanos was far more interesting in Infinity War than the Mad Titan he is in Endgame, this is the best of the MCU on every level.
Elton John's biopic is garish, tacky, melodramatic, over the top, and everything it needs to be. Its commitment to being a straight-up musical makes for a couple of rocky transitions, but these imperfections don't distract from its resonance and meaningfulness. This is easily one I could watch several times over before the year's out, the perfect blend of La La Land's earnestness and The Greatest Showman's spectacle without Bohemian Rhapsody's shallowness.
I almost always appreciate a Shyamalan film more on the second go-around, though I have yet to give Glass this treatment. Still, it's one of the year's standouts for me, even though its inspiring message is muddled by the message-giver character's ethics.
Jim Jarmusch's latest outing is hilarious in its dryness, but distancing in its coldness. While I loved the often-absurd humor, stayed on-board through its non-sequiturs, and stood behind its bluntness, I still was bummed leaving the theater that I couldn't hang my hat on a character or a great emotional beat. Of course, that was part of the point.
5. Captain Marvel
While it's received mixed to negative reviews from the internet-at-large, this MCU prequel ranks in the top ten of the franchise for me (my rankings are also full of hot takes, so take with that what you will). While the villain ends up being underdeveloped and not every joke lands - like a typical MCU movie - I thought an unexpectedly relevant and meaningful take on the Skrulls, particularly strong moments of space sci-fi, and a host of other good things from story to characters put it above and beyond for me.
THE BEST IS YET TO COME?
While I could watch any of those five films again right now, I'm eagerly looking forward to the theatrical releases to come later this year.
Franchise fare and genre pictures can and often are as great as its more Academy-pleasing brethren. Of course I'm looking forward to Star Wars's third grand finale The Rise of Skywalker, especially since I'm the biggest fan I've ever been. I'm surprisingly looking forward to the testosterone-fueled ridiculous family fest that will be Fast & Furious Presents Hobbs & Shaw, which I'll enjoy with my brother on opening night in a new tradition that began in a delirious binge of the first eight movies. It's a franchise that rewards its fans, so I'm ready for whatever madness will Rock the house. Though Terminator and DC haven't been as rewarding to its masses, I'm still looking forward to the directions alternate universe installments Terminator: Dark Fate and Joker take after their excellent trailers.
Among the lesser known forthcoming films, A24's The Farewell starring Awkwafina (Crazy Rich Asians) looks like it'll be a comedy-drama to beat. Watching the trailer, I haven't felt that emotional harmony since watching The Big Sick, my favorite film of 2017. DC/New Line's The Kitchen quickly jumped to the top of my list when I saw the trailer last week, if only because of the strong ensemble (Melissa McCarthy, Elizabeth Moss, Tiffany Haddish, Domhnall Gleeson). A woman in the director's chair, behind the script, and working the camera ain't anything to sniff at, either. Jennifer Kent's (The Babadook) historical Tasmanian revenge/war thriller The Nightingale and Taika Waititi's (What We Do in the Shadows) Disney dark comedy Jojo Rabbit featuring Idiot Adolf Hitler (played by Taika Waititi) seem like Best Ofs based on the directors' track records and early buzz alone. I'm also very pumped for Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird follow-up, an adaptation of Little Women starring Meryl Streep, Emma Watson, and Saiorse Ronan.
But there are three movies that have me most excited. Mike Flanagan, straight off of The Haunting of Hill House, is helming a sequel to Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, entitled Doctor Sleep. Starring the consistently excellent Ewan McGregor (Christopher Robin), it looks to serve as an adaptation to Stephen King's original sequel and a faithful successor to the seminal horror film of 1980. It Chapter Two looks like more of what made the first chapter great, but this time it reunites the cast of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, and Bill Hader) as older versions of the child characters - a win in every regard. Rian Johnson's follow-up to his Star Wars film, Knives Out, looks like a funny, fun, exciting, and twisty murder mystery. With the trailer promising snappy dialogue and the year's most stacked cast since Endgame, it's hard not to be excited for this original film.
WHAT'S NEXT FOR ME?
I haven't kept all my promises from the beginning of the year. This was coupled with a very long hiatus. So here's the situation. The goal to go all in and post multiple times a week is an ambitious idea and so crazy that it just might work. The truth is that I tend to stretch myself in several ways, including in multiple planned creative writing projects, a second criticism venture that's also undergoing a temporary hiatus due to logistics and timing, a tutoring job, the completion of my second major, and the preparation for graduate school.
One issue I found was that I was trying to crank out at least one article a week. These would end up being Weekly 7's, which were fun and simple. Unfortunately, longer and more edifying reviews and thinkpieces got pushed to the backburner, and lesser quality posts came in greater quantity. I was uncomfortable with this, and before I knew it, it was June. Moving forward, here's what you should expect:
Even if the reviews are late, I do want to review most of the films I see this year. In fact, reviews for Ma and Annabelle Comes Home are in the works right now. I likely won't review all sixty films I want to see from this year (in fact, I probably will only see a fraction of that number by January), but reviews are kind of the point of this whole site. Not listicles. In addition, expect the occasional show review ('tis the time for Stranger Things) and thinkpiece, including one on critic Tom Gunning's concept of "The Cinema of Attractions."
I'm also working on producing a reboot of Movie Deep Dive, a podcast I did once last summer. I have about five scripts written and an outline for the first three "seasons". I'm doing some rejiggering at the moment since I'm not confident about the first episode's strength, but I hope to have produced and launched the first season by the end of the summer. I also haven't forgotten That One Small Spark. In the meantime, here's a tentative logo for MDD:
Meanwhile, my collaborative YouTube channel Theme Park Workshop will be back in production soon with meaningful video essays, a couple of fun side series, and an unusual and fairly large finale planned for the end of the year. I'm about halfway done writing this season, and I hope you subscribe and look forward to what we have planned there. And thank you for helping us get to nearly 1000 views and over 60 subscribers since we launched in February!
I believe this is a far more manageable output than I was attempting in January. While I have no doubt I'll keep myself busy as I close out my film major and engage the next steps of my life path, this more intentional schedule should make this latter half of the year more productive for me, and hopefully, a better give to you who read this site.