Man, it was hard to figure out ten movies I liked enough to make a Top Ten list this year! For anyone who missed it, here’s my Top Twenty TV Shows of 2019. Now on with the movies!
10. Always Be My Maybe — a romantic comedy starring and written by the insanely charismatic and funny Randall Park and Ali Wong, with a legendary appearance from a big-name actor you’ve probably already heard about. I got to see Ali Wong do stand-up, opening for the great John Mulaney, before she even had a Netflix special, so I’m thrilled to have seen her explode since then. And even though I never got into Randall Park’s sitcom, I’m thrilled he has a recurring role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is doing other things now. This movie introduced me to the fact that he is a hell of a rapper, and I’m not joking about that. Check this out and be amazed and astonished! Dude has bars, and such a chill, laid-back flow that I just love.
9. John Wick 3: Parabellum — as long as they keep making these, I’ll keep going, even as they get progressively more ridiculous. This one had kung fu, gun fu, knife fu, dog fu, and horse fu.
8. Under the Silver Lake — a trippy, meandering film about an amateur detective (or maybe just a creeper?) trying to find a missing girl in Los Angeles. It contained one of my favorite scenes in any movie this year (guess what I think it was, constant readers!), even if the whole thing doesn’t quite come together as well as I hoped. It would be part of an amazing L.A. neo-noir film festival alongside The Long Goodbye, The Big Lebowski, and Inherent Vice.
7. Hustlers — this was the one about the gang of strippers seducing, occasionally drugging, and robbing Wall Street guys, based on a true story detailed in a New York Magazine article. Though written and directed by a woman, Lorene Scafaria, it felt a lot like a Martin Scorsese movie, and makes a perfect companion piece to his similarly-structured Wolf of Wall Street. I didn’t expect to like either movie all that much, but surprised myself by how much I enjoyed both, despite the characters’ amorality. At least in Hustlers, you understood what drove the women to do what they did, and probably even rooted for their “found family” until they took things too far (as characters always do in movies like this). But the cast was great, especially Jennifer Lopez, who hasn’t been this good in anything since Out of Sight. My only complaint was that Lizzo had a tiny cameo, and I was hoping to see much more of her in the movie. Feel free to take that however you want.
6. Deadwood: The Movie — one of my favorite shows of all time ended abruptly 14 years ago, so to get this movie and spend a little more time in the Black Hills with these characters was a real gift. Deadwood featured a murderer’s row of amazing character actors, so if you love Timothy Olyphant, Ian McShane, and John Hawkes, you owe it to yourself to start at the beginning of the series, and cap off the experience with this movie. It was bittersweet, focusing on how much time had aged these hard-living men and women, especially since the brilliant writer and showrunner, David Milch, revealed he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease right before the movie came out on HBO. Did I cry? You bet I did.
5. Booksmart — a delightful and kind-hearted comedy about two overachieving best friends getting ready to graduate high school and figuring out what comes next in their lives. So many comedies have a mean streak and love to humiliate and debase their characters, but Olivia Wilde’s film found empathy for everyone — these two girls who spent so much time planning their futures that they lost the opportunity to live as teenagers, and the other kids who somehow excelled in school while having a blast. In the end, innocence was lost, lessons were learned, and everyone walked away better off, with new understandings about each other and themselves as well. How often does that happen? Carrie Fisher’s daughter Billie Lourd stole the movie with every scene she was in. I’m expecting big things from her in the future.
4. Dolemite Is My Name — another good and kind comedy, but also loud, raunchy, and hilarious. After ruling the ’80s with the unassailable and unmatched hot streak of Saturday Night Live –> 48 Hours –> Delirious –> Trading Places –> Beverly Hills Cop –> Raw –> Beverly Hills Cop II –> Coming to America, Eddie Murphy’s career was never quite the same, after too many forgettable, family-friendly flops. But this was a return to form for one of our most charismatic comic actors of all time, playing a lesser-known comedy legend, Rudy Ray Moore. The story of how Moore honed his foul-mouthed stand-up persona and got the ultra-low budget Dolemite film made is heart-warming and inspiring, but you’ll be laughing the entire time, I promise. Plus, it’s on Netflix, so it’s free!
3. Knives Out — Rian Johnson has yet to make a less-than-great movie (check out The Brothers Bloom and Brick if you haven’t!), and this whodunnit is insanely intricate, clever, and funny, with an old fashioned-feeling premise that still comes across as super-relevant in 2019. It has a star-studded cast full of actors that even your parents will probably enjoy watching, often playing against type (Michael Shannon, Chris Evans, Daniel Craig stealing the show as a character I hope we see in future movies), and it’s a star-making performance for Ana de Armas. But that script was breathtaking, with so many twists and turns, precision gears that move in perfect clockwork. The big reveal is another one of my favorite scenes in any movie this year, and once again, it shows that kindness and empathy can triumph over greed and selfishness.
2. Motherless Brooklyn — my favorite neo-noir since 1997’s L.A. Confidential, which is probably my third-favorite movie of all time (after Casablanca and Ghostbusters). This was a passion project for writer/director/star Edward Norton (one of my favorite actors), who apparently made a lot of changes from the original novel. I hated to see this movie come and go from theaters without making a big cultural impact, but I loved every minute of it. It’s a 1950s period piece with a killer cast (including Gugu Mbatha-Raw from “San Junipero,” the only Black Mirror episode I’ve liked), but just like Knives Out, the mystery feels incredibly relevant for modern times. (Wait for the villain to be revealed and make his big speech! That’s what I call meta-casting!) Also like Knives Out, it also features another protagonist who is a genuinely good guy — not an antihero, not a rogue, not a bad person who does bad things that somehow work out for the best.
1. Avengers: Endgame (as if there was any doubt!) — the culmination of eleven years and 22 movies, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s grand finale brought so much emotional resonance and catharsis, especially after the shocking (if you don’t read comic books) ending of last year’s Avengers: Infinity War. This movie had everything: new life, tragic death, wacky time travel capers, some of the most rousing and badass action sequences we’ve seen so far, heroic self-sacrifices, true love, hope for the future, and (spoiler alert!), good triumphing over the ultimate evil. It has been a hell of a decade, and whether you call these Marvel movies “theme park rides” or “comfort food” or “focus group-friendly popcorn entertainment” or “legitimate cinema,” they clearly tapped into the zeitgeist, gave audiences what we needed, and sent us home happy. Not every Marvel movie nails the formula, but Endgame was the perfect culmination of everything Kevin Feige, the Russo Brothers, and other creators had built together. I laughed A LOT. I sure as hell cried a lot too — both sad and happy tears. Hell, I’m getting choked up just thinking about a few of those classic moments, especially the ending. All the characters got a chance to shine, especially my favorites. This is probably my favorite of all the Marvel movies, and it felt like the perfect ending to all of it. Of course we already know it wasn’t (nothing ever really ends), but I don’t know how they’re ever going to top this one.