Welcome to my second annual awards show. In case you missed what happened in 2018, here are the rules. First I make a list of all the 2019 releases that I saw in 2019. This is a long, long way from being a representative sample of anything, with the titles being drawn mainly from the DVD Quick Picks shelf at my local library. As you will immediately notice, this sampling includes few if any of the usual suspects that get awards from presitgious critical bodies. They just happen to be movies I felt like watching on a given day, for whatever reason. From this list I then pick my own best and worst film of the year, best actor, best actress, and best screenplay.
Here is the list (I can’t really call them nominees):
Alita: Battle Angel
Annabelle Comes Home
The Curse of La Llorona
The Dead Don’t Die
Happy Death Day 2U
The Haunting of Sharon Tate
It Chapter Two
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Best Film: 2019 was a year of disappointments. Glass finished off M. Night Shyamalan’s comic-book trilogy, and while not a bad movie I liked it a lot less than Unbreakable and slightly less than Split. Cold Pursuit was OK, and one of Liam Neeson’s better action vehicles, but on balance I didn’t like it as much as In Order of Disappearance, the movie it was a remake of. It Chapter Two wasn’t as good as Chapter One (and was half-an-hour longer). Jordan Peele’s Us got rave reviews but I thought it nowhere near as good as Get Out. Escape Room was just another Game of Death movie trying to set itself up to be a franchise. Happy Death Day 2U wasn’t nearly as good as Happy Death Day. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum was a drop off from Chapter 2. It wasn’t the best or the worst John Wick movie, and Annabelle Comes Home wasn’t the best or the worst Annabelle movie (the same, or less, could be said of The Curse of La Llarona). Alita: Battle Angel was a YA version of Ghost in the Shell (which I didn’t think was a movie for grown-ups in the first place).
As for remakes/resets, Pet Sematary wasn’t as good as Pet Sematary (1989), Child’s Play wasn’t as good as Child’s Play (1988), and Hellboy wasn’t as good as Hellboy (2004). You see what I mean by disappointment?
Moving right along, but in the same dismal direction, The Dead Don’t Die was a tired zomcom, feeling at least a decade out of date. I don’t blame Brian De Palma for Domino for being bad, but it was still pretty bad. Ma was a dud and Captive State a bore. Avengers: Endgame broke all kinds of box office records, and indeed may be the highest-grossing movie of all time depending on how you calculate these things, but I thought Infinity War was a better movie, and I didn’t love Infinity War. There were a couple of movies relating to the Manson killings on its fiftieth anniversary. I didn’t like either. But does Quentin Tarantino even disappoint now? His glory days seem so far behind him.
How then to pick a best film out of this mass of mediocrity and list of undistinguished epigones? It’s not easy. But here’s one way of thinking about it: Which of these movies would I want to watch again? If I’m being totally honest, none of them. But if I had to: Us.
Worst Film: This presents a different challenge. Though I wasn’t impressed by this year’s crop of movies, I didn’t hate many of them either. There are two sets of criteria for picking a “worst movie”: (1) which movie did I think was the biggest waste (of money, talent, or something else that made me think it might be good)?, or (2) which movie did I actively dislike the most? Using the first method I’m drawn toward Alita: Battle Angel and The Dead Don’t Die. Using the second, I’d lean toward The Haunting of Sharon Tate. In the end, this is where I came down: both Alita and The Haunting of Sharon Tate, though terrible, were at least playing fair with their audience, giving them a giant CGI video game in the former case and a somewhat metaphysical home-invasion thriller in the latter. The Dead Don’t Die, however, seemed to despise its audience in a way that was knowing without being clever, original, or fun. So I thought it was the worst of the worst.
Best Actor: Not much here. I mean, there’s really not much here. Liam Neeson? He had a bad year, mainly due to fallout from an interview he gave while promoting Cold Pursuit, so I’ll give him the nod to help make up for that. Plus he really was pretty good in the part. So Liam Neeson in Cold Pursuit. I can’t think of anyone else who deserves it.
Best Actress: Last year’s list included a number of great roles for women, even in bad movies. That wasn’t the case this year. Some relatively decent performances in bad movies were turned in, but Lupita Nyong’o in Us is the only real possibility here. I said in my notes that she was terrific and that her performance was the only thing that would lead me to rate Us as slightly above average. That’s something I still believe.
Best Screenplay: I thought last year’s award for Best Screenplay was grim pickings, but compared to this year’s crop they seem like works of genius. I’m not sure if all of the movies I saw this year even had screenplays. Of the ones that I think did, most were awful. Tarantino got a lot of praise for the screenplay to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, but what was good about it? If you liked that movie it wasn’t for its script. So I’ll have to say Us, despite the fact that it doesn’t make much sense. At least it was sort of interesting for a while.
So there you have it, the best and less-than-best of 2019 from one movie-watcher’s absurdly small sampling of what was out there. Better luck next year!