By: Kevin Jordan
One is the loneliest number.
The previous two years, I have repeated the same opening paragraph in my year-end review – ending the paragraph wondering how aliens hadn’t yet put us out of our misery – and I thought about doing it again. It still applies. Horrible things continue to happen, too many people are incapable of admitting their mistakes, people still believe things they hear on Fox News (including the part about “news”), and our national descent into insanity is somewhere between Joker and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Then, I read Dave Barry’s year in review (much of my writing inspiration originates from Mr. Barry), which contained the following quote that appears to answer my own sentiment: “From somewhere beyond our solar system hostile aliens are monitoring all this and concluding that they need not waste energy exterminating humanity, as we’re doing fine on our own.” Dammit!
Luckily, we haven’t gone so far down the rabbit hole that we all can’t sit in a theater and enjoy a film together. As usual, and despite the continued predictions that a fill-in-the-blank-enemy will force theaters to close (this year, streaming options were the preferred boogieman), the U.S. box office hauled in more than $11 billion (for the fifth year in a row). Worldwide, that total jumps to more than $41 billion. We may not agree on much these days, but we still agree that watching a movie in a theater together is fun. Even more, we all appear to agree that we should give all of our money to Disney.
Domestically speaking (U.S.), Disney had seven of the eight top-grossing movies. They have all eight if we count Spider-Man: Far From Home (Sony technically owns Spider-Man, but we know why the movie was good, leading to the dumbest fight ever between the two studios). Seven of which cracked $1 billion worldwide (Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker should make it eight very shortly). Avengers: Endgame became the highest-grossing movie all time (beating out Avatar) with just a hair under $2.8 billion. And, that is before you get to any movies inherited by Disney by virtue of its acquisition of 21st Century Fox. This year, Disney films accounted for nearly 40% of all domestic ticket sales and $13 billion worldwide. Think about that number and consider that two of those top eight are soulless remakes of classics (Aladdin and The Lion King) and the other six are sequels or franchise entries. Tell me again how people are tired of non-original films.
Incidentally, that got me thinking about two questions. The first is a semantic question, sure to lead to the next great Internet war – when is a franchise technically a franchise? Like pop vs. soda (who cares?), Chevy vs. Ford (neither), or Keaton vs. Bale (tough one), we need to have this argument (do we?). The question popped into my head when I read a piece referring to Frozen as a franchise, which it decidedly is not. Two movies does not a franchise make, especially when the sequel literally has Roman numeral two (II) in it. But, I can see the problem – how do you refer to two Frozen films as a whole? Easy – the Frozen series. You’re welcome, New York Times.
This rule applies to all properties that never stray from the original film’s contents. Think of it like a television series. Nobody refers to Friends or The Americans as a franchise because all of the episodes belong to the same storyline. The number of sequels is irrelevant; it’s the story and characters that matter. Both have to be different in order for the series to become more than a series. This includes TV series’ that get movie treatments like Sex and the City and Downton Abbey.
The real debate starts when spin-offs happen. Star Wars is the easy case, comprised of books, video games, movies, and television series, all featuring different characters in different times on different worlds having different stories. The only common thread is a galaxy far, far away. But, is The Fast and the Furious a franchise now that Hobbs and Shaw exists? Did it become a franchise when it stopped being about street racing and become about covert operations? What about James Bond, Halloween, and other series that get reboot with every recasting of the main character?
What about the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)? Seems easy to call the MCU a franchise, but all of them revolve around the Infinity Stone story arc. And all of the characters come together in Endgame. That means story and characters are consistent throughout all twenty-three films. Given the standalone nature of most of the movies, it is simple to argue that MCU is a franchise, but now you see the argument to be made that it is one big series. Have fun trying to get this question out of your head now.
(Side note: Yes, I did just spend four paragraphs talking about the definition of a franchise. Would you rather I spend four paragraphs discussing the ongoing shit-show that is the White House and current political climate? You’re welcome.)
The second is much more personal, but would fit right in with the current war between generations – are most film snobs born because they got tired of big, loud blockbusters? By mid-November, more than usual, I found myself looking forward to a month of plowing through movies being pushed for award-nominations. Part of that was due to this year being very weird for me, movie-wise. Due to business travel, I missed many screenings of big blockbusters, but ended up seeing them on my own dime during consequent trips. There really is something to be said about seeing a movie in a crowded theater versus seeing one with six other people on a Tuesday night. I also ended up seeing an inordinate number of movies aimed at kids for the same reason (screenings are generally on weekends, which I was home for). These two things together tired me out on big, loud, and mostly dumb movies and made me think “this is how it happens,” quickly followed by “am I getting old?”
It didn’t help that when people asked me what I thought the best movie of the year was, my mind went to Joker and Knives Out before it went to Endgame. What helped even less was seeing the Golden Globe nominees for best drama and best musical or comedy. You know what are there? Joker and Knives Out. You know what is not there? Endgame. Who am I?
Turns out, I am still me. The remainder of the nominees include four films that are not at all great movies, even though three of them have received plenty of hyperventilation, most notably The Irishman and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The third, Marriage Story, is just depressing. The one not receiving breathless praise, appropriately, is The Two Popes. Reading through the list lead me to head-nod at 1917 and Jojo Rabbit while silently screaming that Us and Endgame got screwed. Not to mention that The Lion King was nominated for best animated film, which would be hilarious if it wasn’t so tragic.
The point is that we all have as much in common as we always have. We will always disagree on a lot of things, even when it comes to movies. Endgame, one of the defining movies of our generation, will be completely ignored by the Oscars. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has divided people, with critics taking swipes at it and fans calling critics stupid-heads (I, a fan and critic, loved it). But, most of us agree that a movie is more fun to watch in a packed theater, that almost nobody made through it through The Irishman in one sitting, that a franchise with just two films is not a franchise (and barely a series), and that I am not a film snob. Yet. But I still think the aliens should end us.
My Top 5
All five of these movies come from different genres and all five of these movies are outstanding in similar and unique ways. There are many reasons to dump 2019 into a garbage disposal, but movies are not one of them.
- Avengers: Endgame – An extremely great and satisfying ending to eleven years’ worth of films. Honestly, I have no idea what we’re all going to do now.
- Joker – One of our favorite movie past times is to play “who did it best” with film characters. Joaquin Phoenix has made the Joker arguably the best debate of them all. And that’s before you get to how great of a film is the Joker.
- Knives Out – A delightfully quirky and entertaining murder mystery featuring a host of great actors enjoying the hell out of themselves. It’s also the movie that made me briefly question my fatigue of blockbusters, as it evoked the names Agatha Christie and Murder, She Wrote. What am I, a hundred?
- A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood – Speaking of names from the past, I miss Mr. Rogers. Last year’s documentary, Won’t You be My Neighbor was really good, but A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood really hits the point home on how important and impactful Fred Rogers was. Yeah, I teared up and you will too.
- 1917 – A brilliant film that everyone needs to see. It is a masterpiece of filmmaking and as tense as any movie can be. If nothing else, it is a visceral reminder that war is the absolute last thing anyone should ever want. I’m giving 1917 the edge in the race for best movie of the year.
You Almost Made It
If you named any of these next few movies as being in your top movies of the year list, I would just nod at you. The difference between these and my top five is very little.
- Us – The dad jokes alone are worth watching this movie, but there is so much more to like about it. Creative, well-produced, detail-oriented, and flat-out creepy – Jordan Peele movies are near the top of the list when it comes to anticipated upcoming movies.
- Captain Marvel – Maybe the biggest disappointment of the year is that Captain Marvel was practically sidelined in Endgame, but at least she wasn’t the only one (Doctor Strange). We are looking forward to her sequel, especially if Brie Larsen improves her bantering skills, a must in the MCU.
- Ford v Ferrari – I may be a Tesla guy, but I appreciate any well-engineered machine. I also appreciate a good historical fiction that makes me go look up the real events the film is based on. In conclusion, NASCAR can suck it.
- Klaus – Best animated movie of the year. Finally, Netflix is starting to figure out how to make watchable, let alone great, movies.
- Bombshell – I snuck this movie in on New Year’s Eve and it was more than worth it. Charlize Theron amazes as she disappears into Megyn Kelly and Margot Robbie shows, again, why she is one of the best actors in the world. Only monsters will be able to watch this film and keep watching Fox News on purpose.
These movies were very good, but every one of them is tough to watch for one reason or another. Rewatchability played a big factor in my rankings here in that parts of each movie are really difficult to sit through more than once. So, they get a separate category so you don’t accidentally watch them on date night.
- Jojo Rabbit – The story of a young Hitler youth living in WWII-Germany, trying to make sense of the world around him with the help of his imaginary friend, eccentrically goofy Hitler. You know a film is great when it makes you simultaneously laugh and cringe at Nazis. Like Bombshell, Jojo Rabbit exposes the lies that extremist ideologies shove down its followers’ throats.
- The Report – A really good film focusing on the investigation into the United States’ use of torture during the Bush years following 9/11. The first forty-five minutes feature people being tortured in full detail, or enhanced interrogation as some demented fuckers refer to it. Adam Driver nails his performance, displaying the appropriate emotions and reactions as he uncovers the truth, including how the torture proponents tried to legally justify war crimes.
- The Great Hack – If you missed the revelations surrounding Cambridge Analytica, stop what you are doing right now and go watch this documentary. If you didn’t already know that all of your personal information is being sold and used against you, you will after watching this film. And, if the only thing you have to say after watching is “so what, I have nothing to hide,” remember that voting day is always Wednesday.
- Midsommar – The Wicker Man, but with better production and acting. Cult movies are always disturbing and difficult to watch and I made this one even more of a squirmer for myself by finishing the last thirty minutes in an airport concourse on my fifteen-inch-screen laptop. You bet I tried to obfuscate the screen during a certain sex scene I did not know was coming.
It is almost impossible to go into a movie without some sort of expectations. Usually, it’s due to something you saw in a trailer, actors who are in the movie, or the director. In this case, my expectations were all low or guarded expectations going into them and I was pleasantly surprised at the end. Some of these were even better than decent.
- Greta – The surprises outweighed the cliches, even after the trailers spoiled nearly the entire film. But, I had to watch the trailers to make sure I wasn’t watching a movie aimed at grandparents.
- Stuber – Easily the biggest surprise film of the year, as well as offering some evidence that Dave Bautista might have a future outside of Drax.
- Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark – The filmmakers did a wonderful job of taking an anthology of short stories and melding them into a single plot while maintaining the anthology angle. If not for Us, this would have topped my horror movie list for the year.
- Long Shot – Equal parts charming and crap, Long Shot is a surprisingly watchable rom-com. It helps that Charlize Theron is able to counter Seth Rogen’s sometimes-over-the-top performance to keep the movie on an even keel. Plus, she has great comedic timing and plays well off Rogen.
- Missing Link – The more I think about this film, the more I like it. It also has a lot in common with The Aeronauts. Both films feature earnest scientists trying to accomplish things using science and reason while being poo-pooed by ignorant, close-minded fools. Sure, Missing Link is about proving the existence of mythical creatures, but show me an actual Bigfoot (or ghosts or aliens or God) and I will believe they are here on Earth.
- Yesterday – I almost forgot about this movie until my wife picked it for home movie night. It’s a heartwarming and pleasant movie and even provides some extra, fun little jokes regarding other things that vanished from the collective memory of humanity. If I had a super power, mine might be erasing trivial things that we would all be better off without.
Movies for Me
Many of these movies are for you too. A couple of them are even really good and probably belong in the You Almost Made It category. For the other ones, I believe everyone should have guilty pleasure movies. This is how you know I’m not a film snob, even when I do gush about documentaries.
- Storm Boy – I guess I am a fan of pelicans after watching this movie. Or I am getting soft in my increasing age.
- The Curse of La Llorona – Apparently, horror movies hit a soft spot for me this year. Plus, now I have another tool in the toolbox to get my kid to clean up his dirty dishes.
- Don’t Let Go – I am kind of a sucker for movies that involve time travel, especially those that come at it from the angle of repeating moments multiple times. Don’t Let Go is no Memento, but it gets the job done.
- Doctor Sleep – Not sure anyone was clamoring for a sequel to The Shining and the box office proved it. Unfortunately, those folks missed a surprisingly good second act and genuinely creepy movie.
- Wonder Park – A very flawed film, I thought it recovered nicely by the end. For a film containing a theme centered on cancer, it manages not to depress you.
- Zombieland: Double Tap – Aaannnd there it is.
- Ready or Not – There it is again.
- The Aeronauts – Anyone else excited to watch a movie about hot-air balloonists in the 1800s? Just me, huh?
- The Laundromat – Anyone else excited by a film about the Panama Papers? You should be.
Meh…(or Movies Not for Me)
Flip a coin on these films. All of these movies were decent, though a couple of them are wildly overrated (you may notice they are a bit heavy on the indies and award nominee hopefuls). None of them spoke to me in any way, but maybe they spoke to you.
- The Kitchen – Now I know Melissa McCarthy is capable of good acting and that The Kitchen is not a comedy or horror film featuring Gordon Ramsey. I would make that trade in a heartbeat.
- Escape Room – I am a big fan of escape rooms, so I was all in on giving this movie a chance. For the most part, it is solid, but the end left a lot to be desired. Unlike actual escape rooms.
- American Factory – A documentary about a Chinese-owned glass factory in Ohio depicting the massive differences between Chinese and American workers. It also depicts the similarities between Chinese and American business owners, including that both will fuck their workers to the fullest extent possible. One of these days, people will remember why unions exist in the first place.
- The King – The story of King Henry V’s ascension to the British crown in the early 1400s. I have no idea why he was important, but Shakespeare sure thought he was. Don’t worry – this film is not delivered in iambic pentameter and includes plenty of war and bloodshed to keep your attention.
- The Two Popes – A polite lecture about the rare event of a pope abdicating the papacy. Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce are exquisite, but their two-hour long discussion fails to leave an impression on the audience, choosing not to delve into anything resembling drama.
- Harriet – Like The Two Popes, Harriet shies around the elephant in the room (child sex abuse in the Catholic church in The Two Popes), namely the full atrocities committed against African-Americans during the final days of legalized slavery.
- Parasite – If not for The Irishman and Marriage Story, Parasite would be the most overrated movie of the year. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a solid movie, especially for one I have to read (it is a South Korean film with subtitles, meaning I definitely missed some visuals), with a good commentary on social classes. It just didn’t stand out for me.
We’re Really Only in it for the Money
Better known as ‘popcorn flicks,’ these are the movies that are uninspired, big-budget, CGI-heavy blockbusters. All of them were very short on story, incredibly redundant, or just plain lazy. Sadly, people are still failing to recognize these films earlier and are plunking down gobs of cash. Like many current social topics, we are not nearly as far along as many of us thought.
- Men in Black: International – I almost liked the movie enough to put it into Movies For Me, but there are two other Men in Black films I would watch before I would give this one another viewing.
- Godzilla: King of the Monsters – Giant monsters? Check. Giant monster fighting other giant monsters? Check. Stupid human stories? Check. Deus ex machinas? Check, check, check-check-checkity-check.
- Dora and the Lost City of Gold – The Dora the Explorer animated series is targeted to very small children, which helps explain why the film (featuring a high-schools aged Dora) treats its audience like three-year olds.
- The Addams Family – Is it too obvious to make a joke about this movie being soulless? Or that this property just won’t die? Or that I wish I could make it go away with the snap of my fingers?
- Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw – Essentially a remake of Tango & Cash, including the homoeroticism, which was ramped up to an eleven. The sheer volume of dick jokes and attacks on each other’s manhood was evidence of an obsession bordering on the pathological. Just bone already so we can get on with the actual story.
- The Secret Life of Pets 2 – While moderately entertaining, the film is a disjointed mess of three different storylines that never coalesce into a single entity. In other words, the perfect film for children with the attention spans of chihuahuas
- Frozen II – Do you know what happens when you force a sequel to a movie that shouldn’t have one? You end up with a forgettable film and even less memorable songs (and still make over $1 billion). Although, maybe that is a good thing. I still haven’t gotten that original song out of my end.
- The Lion King – If you close your eyes, the only difference between this remake and the original is the voices sound different and most of the song “Be Prepared” is gone. If you open your eyes, you realize this film is devoid of any charm. But, it sure is pretty.
We Decided We Weren’t Just in it for the Money
These movies are no less money grabs than the films you just read about, but they actually tried to provide some solid entertainment for your money. A couple of them are even getting award talk, though I’m not sure that should be anything more technical awards.
- The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part – The moral of the story was handled pretty ham-fistedly, but the film did a great job of delivering a fun new story while avoiding rehashing the high points of the first movie. Pf course, I may be bias toward Legos, so watch where you step.
- How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World – What can I say? I like dragons. Plus, the film has a great villain and good comedic relief.
- Pokemon Detective Pikachu – I would kill for this movie to have been rated PG-13, if not R. Considering the naked-esque cat Pokemon and Ryan Reynolds, I’m a little surprised it wasn’t.
- Terminator: Dark Fate – Speaking of franchises and time travel, what more does Terminator have to do to get people back on board? Dark Fate is a very solid and entertaining movie, yet most people ignored it. Maybe if we spent a little less watching Jason Statham and The Rock compare dicks, we could afford nicer things.
- Spider-Man: Far from Home – When Far From Home is the third-best movie release of your franchise during the year, you have earned the right to get cocky with Sony.
- Toy Story 4 – Now Disney/Pixar is just rubbing it in other studios’ faces. A (very, very good) movie about an anthropomorphic spork brought in over $1 billion dollars.
- Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – I know I am still on the light side of the force because I am with the fans on The Rise of Skywalker and The Last Jedi. Rise of Skywalker is an excellent conclusion to the Skywalker saga that wisely ignored much of the absurdity (even for a space fantasy) of the flawed Last Jedi.
The second category where expectations are key. This time around, I had high expectations (foolishly) and walked out of the theater (or away from my DVD player) grumbling. It’s their own damn fault though, mostly by just being plain lazy on some fronts, especially story.
- Glass – I thought maybe, just maybe, M. Night Shyamalan had finally turned a corner after Split. Unfortunately, that corner led us to run head first into a wall.
- The Dead Don’t Die – On paper, a zombie movie featuring Adam Driver, Bill Murray, and Tilda Swinton sounds awesome. In practice, they should have thrown that paper in the shredder.
- Alita: Battle Angel – I don’t know why I keep getting tricked into having hopes for anything based on manga. Alita non-ironically featured cyber roller-derby and didn’t feel like bothering the audience with a third act. I was actually okay with it until it suddenly cut to the credits, causing me almost to yell out “fuck this movie and fuck Robert Rodriguez” on an airplane.
- Ad Astra – Yet another year that failed to deliver a good science fiction flick. It probably would have helped if this film had bothered including some actual science, but moon pirates and space monkeys does kind of sum up the scientific literacy of a large chunk of America.
- Midway – I am a huge military history nerd and I have never been more bored during a war movie. I actually had the thought “Pearl Harbor was better” after watching this snoozer.
A Waste of Time
At least ‘The Letdowns’ contained some entertainment value. The next few films were all very boring, not the least bit entertaining, and lacked any plot beyond the initial premise. They are the very definition of “two hours of your life you will never get back.”
- Abominable – Both my son and I forgot we had seen this movie for a couple of days after watching it. If that doesn’t scream a waste of time, I don’t what does.
- The Silence – One of several movies I watched on an airplane during one of my business trips. Wished I had slept instead.
- Motherless Brooklyn – Do you like hard-boiled detective movies that take way too long to get to the point? Neither do I.
- The Irishman – Do you like self-indulgent, gangster flicks in which none of the characters are redeemable and the film itself runs for more than three and a half hours? You do? Weirdos.
- Marriage Story – A depressing movie about a couple getting a divorce and how the two of them try to one-up the other in the asshole department. I’m pretty sure this movie’s intended audience are the weirdos that loved Love Actually.
Not the Worst, But You Sure Tried Hard
The challenge with this category is convincing you of the one redeemable quality for each of these films that kept them out of the cellar. Good luck to me, right?
- The Aftermath – I can’t do better than how I ended my review, so here it is again – If something is pretty enough, you’ll convince yourself to sleep with it, but you won’t feel good about it afterward.
- Shazam! – It’s only convention crap instead of cover-your-eyes-and-ears crap. No, that isn’t damning it with faint praise, just damning it slightly less than others.
- UglyDolls – Yes, it is a naked advertisement posing as a movie. But, at least it’s not a sequel. I rest my case your honor.
- Dumbo – Disney is not infallible. At best, Dumbo broke even at the box office, which is much better than this turd of a movie deserved. Nostalgia is much more powerful than I expected.
- Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood – It’s Tarantino jerking off to himself in a mirror for two hours, then remembering he wanted to show an alt-history version of some Manson-cult murders.
Pooping on the Silver Screen
And now, the moment you’ve been waiting for – the five worst movies of the year. The first two might have a case as fun-to-watch-when-drinking, but the other three all but dare you to set your money on fire.
- The Kid Who Would be King – This film made me question every movie I liked as a kid. I liked King Arthur when I was growing up and the idea of finding Excalibur was as exciting as winning a Nintendo tournament.
- Hellboy – I really was not prepared for how bad this remake was going to be, even after expecting garbage. I knew they would never be able to replace Ron Perlman or Guillermo del Toro, but Dante never imagined the ring that spawned this shit muffin.
- Aladdin – It continues to amaze me the lengths that people will go to convince themselves they made a good decision, when the evidence clearly shows the opposite. Aladdin features bad casting, terrible acting, and the complete neutering of a sidekick and still grossed more than $1 billion. And, this is the first of Will Smith’s two movie tragedies this year (though he was the one non-bad thing in Aladdin).
- Gemini Man – Ang Lee shot Gemini Man at 120 frames per second (24-48 fps is the norm), even though no theater in America is equipped with hardware that projects at that speed. And that was the best decision anyone made when it came to making this dumpster fire of a film.
- Cats – Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.
Pooping on the Silver Screen: The Sequel
This is the bonus category for movies that were made as sheer money grabs, but were also terrible movies in general. They are the shitty sequels, prequels, remakes, and franchise entries that keep getting made because you won’t stop watching them.
- John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum – Easily one of the most overrated series of all time, John Wick continues to present every reason why a sixth extinction event is probably for the best.
- Dark Phoenix – The Dark Phoenix saga is one of the best X-Men stories and this film is one of the worst. At this point, Disney should reboot the X-Men franchise, now that they own it. Just promise us you won’t screw up Deadpool.
- The Angry Birds Movie 2 – Even my seven-year old son was not impressed by this egg-fart of a movie. And not like a pigeon egg, but an ostrich egg.
- Shaft – Do you know how lazy it is to make a sequel with the same title as its predecessor and not even bother adding a 2 or Two or II to the title? About as lazy as writing a screenplay in which the majority of dialogue is Samuel L. Jackson saying the word fuck.
- Maleficent: Mistress of Evil – This film almost ruined a cruise for me. It’s a good thing I saw it after my scuba diving trips and not before.
If you made it this far, thank you for reading. I know 2019 was a long, long, loooooonnnnnng year and 2020 has already started off terrible. As I write this, half of Australia is on fire, there has already been a church shooting, and the United States might be at war with Iran. While we wait for the aliens to stop screwing around, you can take consolation knowing that 2020 has plenty of movies to look forward to. From The Gentlemen to Birds of Prey to Fantasy Island to Onward to Mulan to The New Mutants to James Bond: No Time to Die to Black Widow to another Fast and Furious to Wonder Woman 1984 to Top Gun: Maverick to Avatar 2 to Ghostbusters: Afterlife to Godzilla vs. Kong to Jungle Cruise to Dune and to all of the other films that will pop up, just know that only one of the movies isn’t really coming out next year. The rest promise to cover the spectrum of mind-blowing entertainment to unadulterated crap, but all will be fun, especially if you watch them with other people. You’re welcome.