And it's time once again for my annual wrap-up of movies that came out this year.
Or, more accurately, a "wrap-up of movies I saw that came out this year." As always, there's a bunch of movies I never saw that would have probably ended up on my list (we'll get to that later). And here we go...
THE TWELVE BEST...
These are my favorite movies from this year that I actually saw.
#1 Avengers: Endgame
This should shock absolutely nobody. Easily one of the greatest super-hero movies of all time, and even more easily one of the biggest cinematic spectacles ever created... but also managed to have real heart and some eye-popping entertainment value. My extended review is here, and there's not much more I can add to it except that no other film came close to changing my mind as to what movie deserved the #1 spot on my list.
#2 Captain Marvel
As perhaps the single most powerful hero in the Marvel Universe, bringing Carol Danvers to the Marvel Cinematic Universe was like dancing around a keg of lit dynamite. How in the heck do you manage it in a way that doesn't drastically overshadow everybody else? In Avengers: Endgame you do it by having the mother of all-powerful villains. In her solo movie you do it by greatly reducing her powers for the majority of the film. I have no idea what they will do for future appearances. And while the "youthification" CGI for Samuel L. Jackson and Clark Gregg was far from flawless, it was surprisingly good. Good enough that Sam was on-screen almost as much as the lead character! But what really makes this movie a critical touchstone for the future of Marvel's film slate is that they introduced the Kree and the Skrulls. They are both a massive presence in the comics, and I can only imagine that they will be a big part of the MCU going forward.
#3 Knives Out
Rian Johnson is tough to pin down. He gives us a spectacular movie like Looper, follows up with something completely off-the-mark like The Last Jedi (SPAAAAACE LEIAAAAA!), then rises to even greater heights with Knives Out. As impressive a take on the murder-mystery as this is, the phenomenal cast is where it lives or dies. Smart, funny, and about as stylish as a movie gets, the twists and turns do not stop until the very end. I would say absolutely nothing on this film out of fears of spoiling it... but I will say to go see it.
#4 Jojo Rabbit
Taika Waititi is the gift that keeps on giving. Hunt for the Wilderpeople, What We Do in the Shadows, Thor: Ragnarok, and now this. There is no subject, no genre that's safe from his incredible talent and I couldn't be more happy about it. This is a comedy which features a young boy who's imaginary friend is... Adolf Hitler?!? What kind of filmmaker does that? Well, Taika Waititi does, and he completely knocks it out of the park. Good, silly fun with an innate sweetness that never goes too far, Jojo Rabbit is not without its problems, but the way it rises above them when taken as a whole is pretty darn inspiring.
#5 Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
As a massive fan of everything Quentin Tarantino has ever done, this was the movie that I had the least expectation for. A washed-up actor and his stunt-double wandering around L.A. during The Manson Family murders? Really? Except, as usual, Tarantino has a lot more to say than the subject might otherwise suggest. This alternate-history of Sharon Tate is filled with great characters all having great character moments... and has an ending which was worth every minute of screen time it took to get there. Some of the detours were less successful than others (the Spahn Ranch scene went on way too long and the Italian wife came out of nowhere) but they are all parts of a whole, and the "whole" in this case is pretty great.
#6 Spider-Man: Far From Home
Whereas the first MCU Spider-Man finally... finally... treated us to a Spider-Man that was actually a kid like in the comic books (and found a story which took full advantage of it), the second outing is a step backwards. Using the idea of an international school trip (seriously, who bought that premise?) which takes students on a random (and changeable!) series of locations across Europe, there were just too many bad coincidences for this thing to hold together. Even worse, the fatherly presence of Tony Stark in the first film was badly missed this time around, even though they tried to cram him in via a magical pair of glasses. And yet... if you can ignore all the wacky coincidences... there's a lot here to love as well. Mysterio was reinvented for the MCU in a way that was actually quite clever. We get more Agent Fury, Happy Hogan, and Maria Hill. The action sequences were fantastic. And Tom Holland is still the best Spider-Man yet.
#7 John Wick 3: Parabellum
Look, there's no other way to say it except to just come out and say that this is the movie to see when you just want to see a lot of stylish violence done really well. It's a fun flick that doesn't aspire to be much more than a fun flick, and that's why it works so perfectly. I am totally ready for John Wick 4.
This movie is about Thailand more than anything else. Which, given my love for the country, would be enough for me to enjoy it. But that's only on the surface. If you take a minute to look under the surface, there's actually a lot going on. When a guy finds out his wife is having an affair, he invites his childhood best friend (the criminally underrated Breckin Meyer) to go on the trip he was surprising his wife with. And then you just kinda follow them along their journey as stuff happens... some of it pretty funny. Seth Green wrote, stars, and directed this gem, so full marks there. But I'd be remiss if I didn't give a shout-out to Patrick Ruth, who is the cinematographer. Every scene is beautifully shot, and that atmosphere is a major character in the film.
#9 Dolemite is My Name
I expected this to be funny with Eddie Murphy starring. I didn't expect it to be so touching. The fact that it's based on a real guy and the very real films he made makes this bizarre Blaxploitation story all the more entertaining. Perfectly presented and perfectly cast, this is Netflix at its finest: producing really good movies that major studios would likely pass on.
#10 The Farewell
Proving once again that everything Awkwafina touches turns to gold, this is a sweet, touching, and wholly remarkable film. Not a lot happens... and yet everything happens... as a family has to deal with a Chinese matriarch being diagnosed with precious little time to live, and everybody knowing about it except her. Apparently this very real situation exists in China. It allows the family to say goodbye without upsetting the person who's dying. The performances are all fantastic, which is essential for a movie like this. The moral and ethical wrangling are just icing on the cake.
If you're Jordan Peele, how do you follow Get Out? Apparently just like this. It's a less subtle effort, going more for outright horror than having an overreaching message (though it does). If there is a flaw, it's leaving too many points ambiguous or not very well fleshed out. And yet... it's a compelling movie even so, which could mean that Peele was smart to stick to the broad strokes and let the details remain unexplored. And yet...
#12 Late Night
This was a good story, not a great story, but the performances by Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling are what make this film appear on my list. As a behind-the-scenes look into late-night television shows it's less successful, but as a character piece for amazing talent it doesn't get much better than this.
DIDN'T SEE, MIGHT HAVE MADE MY LIST...
SHIT THE BED...
PROBABLY SHIT THE BED, BUT I WOULDN'T KNOW...