For us here at GOO Reviews, the year 2019 started out like any other — bleak, weary, depressed, and with the kind of ominous foreboding that the very idea of improvement of any kind seemed an absolute impossibility — but… it ended with a bit of a whimper. In that we didn’t write many reviews in the last half of the year. Like almost none at all.
Oh sure, we put up an Avengers: Endgame review. And a Captain Marvel review. And a review of Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. But not putting up a review of The Farewell? Or Ad Astra? Not doing a Joker review? That last one especially was a bit of a line in the sand for us, a line we thought we’d never cross — not doing a review of a major new superhero (or at least superhero-adjacent) movie. And now that we’re here, now that we’ve crossed that line, continued into the void, and stared into the abyss knowing full well that nothing is staring back (‘cause ain’t no one got time for starin’ back!), we here at GOO Reviews are prepared to admit that… there isn’t much of a “we” or an “us” anymore.
What once started as a pop culture review project from some of only the most esteemed graduates of Grant MacEwan’s long-ago-departed, much-missed, and generally misunderstood professional writing program eventually grew to become the premiere Edmonton-based movie blog (by our own estimation) before now becoming… something. A monolith of sorts, perhaps… mostly inert, but still capable of inspiring awe in those simpering, scuttling, screaming, bone-crunching, throw-everything-up-in-the-air moments. Or whatever. And it’s mostly just “me” now. Thom. Your former editor at large, now the last contributor in GOO Reviews.
But, y’know, it’s not all that bad here, at the top of the summit, the last of us all, even if there’s no one here left to talk to. Because you know what I’ve realized in all of this time of Giving Our Opinions [GOO] here in Edmonton? I’ve come to realize that fewer voices is often better than many, a single sharp point better than several blunted stabs, and so maybe just one voice — mine — will be for the best.
If I can ever get around to writing a whole review again.
Or maybe I’ll just fold this whole thing the next time our annual web service fees come up.
Anyway, in all of my time writing here at GOO Reviews, since Christmas 2012 when Grace and I founded it, if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that Edmonton really isn’t a bad little movie town. The Edmonton International Film Festival still isn’t that big, but it can be a genuinely great event. Between Metro Cinema and the Princess Theatre, you’ve at least got a chance of seeing most of the best new independent movies as well as the usual blockbusters. Those are luxuries that not everyone has, potential pleasures that not all people in all towns are privy to. And that’s something I actually feel thankful for.
As for this year’s list, now unencumbered by everybody else’s opinions and exclusively my own? I think there are more Oscar-nominated movies in the GOO Reviews Year-End Top 10 than ever before. So maybe there’s something to be said for better taste shining through now that everybody else has gone.
Also, did Captain Marvel really come out in 2019? God, that feels like a million, billion years ago.
Anyway, here’s our list. I mean, my list.
My Top 10 Movies of 2019
I put off watching Marriage Story for as long as I could because it looked like it would be very emotionally draining, but what I found instead, when I finally got to it, was a warm, charming, only slightly cynical but deeply understanding story about two people who shouldn’t be together anymore.
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Possibly the second last work of one of our last great star directors — Quentin Tarantino — Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is… really not for everyone. But it worked for me. Once isn’t flashy like Kill Bill or hip like Pulp Fiction, but it’s filled with a greater sense of love than anything I’ve seen from the director before. Read the review >>
One Cut of the Dead
To call this zombie movie a zombie movie would be extremely reductive. And completely missing the point. One-cut-style movies like One Cut of the Dead get a lot of attention for their continuous, uninterrupted shots, but that’s not the most notable aspect of the movie either. What makes One Cut of the Dead something worthy of the Top 10 is simply that it’s constantly surprising and inventive, and there’s even a nice little family story at its heart that’s very quaint, but also quite touching.
The Art of Self-Defense
I could call this movie a black comedy, a veiled political hit job, or a sort of treatise on the ridiculousness of masculinity, and I would be right in applying all of those labels, but I mostly loved The Art of Self-Defense because it’s so weird. And when it was over I said “Holy f*ck!” out loud.
As a Chinaman born in Canada and who only speaks English, The Farewell did more to make me understand some of the elements of Chinese culture that I’ve always hated more than anything I’ve seen, heard, or experienced in my real life while still telling a small, touching family story with universal appeals.
Last year Avengers: Infinity War easily took our top spot for best of 2018 simply because it was so full of pay offs and the types of things I’ve always wanted to see onscreen, and this year with Avengers: Endgame, Marvel kind of dropped the ball. But only a little. There are things in Avengers: Endgame that delight me every time I see them, things I can’t believe were attempted in such a mainstream movie effort, and things I don’t think any franchise could ever again equal, but it was also a little sillier than I would have liked at times. That was probably the right call considering this is a movie aimed squarely at a mainstream audience, but it made for a concluding chapter that just doesn’t stand up to the movie that set it up the year before. Still in my top 5 though. Read the review >>
Spider-Man: Far From Home
For a movie that felt sort of beside the point coming only two months after Avengers: Endgame, Spider-Man: Far From Home still managed to capture a lot of the fundamentals of what makes superheroes meaningful and fun, and its surprise mid-credits ending managed to give the remaining Marvel Cinematic Universe some very compelling new toys to play with. Read the review >>
I wouldn’t tell most people to see Ad Astra, I think it’s very plainly unexciting, a bit terse, and definitely devoid of overt emotionality, but it struck me just right in terms of its emotional complexities that I kind of really loved it. Even though I’m sure you won’t.
There are layers of social commentary all over Parasite, and that’s good, there are strong performances throughout, and that’s great, and there’s all kinds of filmmaking craft to keep your eyes open for, and that’s rewarding. That said you should mostly see it because it’s so refreshingly unlike anything we usually get to see in North American movies, a piece that has a very different rhythm and energy without losing any of its essential relatability. I loved every minute I was allowed to spend in this world and kind of mourn it now that the story’s over.
Jojo Rabbit was a perfectly good and delightfully funny movie for most of its runtime. There’s one moment, though, about two thirds of the way through, that hit me so hard that it was the most emotional experience I had at the movies in 2019, and Jojo only builds from there to a climax that’s very sad but also incredibly uplifting and hopeful. It’s the movie that finally convinced me that Scarlett Johansson is a real movie star. Alongside last year’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Jojo Rabbit is one of the first and one of the few movies I would show to a race of aliens in an attempt to convince them that the human race has something to offer the galaxy and should not be exterminated, and I think that’s the highest compliment I can give.
The 2019 movies that just missed the top 10
Cold Pursuit isn’t a better movie than many of 2019’s other releases, it isn’t the type of movie I expect a lot of people to like, and it isn’t a movie I expect many to remember for anything more than that really weird thing Liam Neeson said while promoting it, but it was so weird and so darkly funny that I was constantly remarking to myself, “This f*cking movie!”. And that’s a good thing.
Booksmart is basically a more modern Superbad from the perspective of two female protagonists. Only Booksmart is good and smart and sensitive. And it actually made me laugh. So maybe not that much like Superbad at all then.
Knives Out is a really easy movie to like, a fun, somewhat comedic but mostly compelling murder mystery, and I think the only reason it didn’t break my Top 10 this year is that it’s just not enough my type of movie to beat the movies I liked better that may not actually have been better.
I think it would be fair to call Luce one of the most explosive movies of 2019 even though it didn’t contain any actual explosions. Oh, wait, there is that one. Hhh. Anyway, Luce is an emotionally, politically, and racially charged piece of filmmaking and it’s probably the one movie of 2019 I thought most about in the days after I watched it.
The most over-rated movies of 2019
The short take on The Irishman is it’s like Goodfellas only an hour longer and with all the exciting parts taken out. The long take is that it’s perhaps a more measured, contemplative, and mature take on the gangster story, but it’s very hard to care about for a whole 3.5 hours while watching it on Netflix when you could be doing anything else.
The Joker seems at least fine if not outright great after first viewing, but it breaks down pretty quickly once you think about it anymore than that. Bleak, but not in a fun way, unexpectedly predictable given its subject matter, and capable enough of raising important questions on topics like class and mental health but unable to say anything about those things. And while I can acknowledge that Joaquin Phoenix turned in a strong performance, I just don’t like how much his version of the Joker comes off like a real loser who could never gain so many followers without a very specific set of circumstances.
The most under-rated movies of 2019
I’m not trying to say that Dark Phoenix, the concluding chapter in the venerable Fox X-Men series, is a great movie or that you shouldn’t hate it for its faults, but I will say that that “venerable” tag I attached to the FoX-Men movies is a total lie. There’s only, like, three, maaaybe four decent X-Men movies (not counting the Deadpool movies), only one of them is actually great, the majority are bad, and almost every one of them suffers from Dark Phoenix’s biggest problems. So don’t go acting like Dark Phoenix is some big disappointment on its own, it’s just like most of the other X-Men movies, and at least this one does some new stuff with the team. Like superhero stuff. And having its characters act like real people sometimes. Read the review >>
Godzilla: King of the Monsters
Godzilla: King of the Monsters is nothing special at all in terms of plot, storytelling, or overall craft, but many of its scenes are so good looking in a show-off-your-new-home-theatre sense that I do occasionally feel like watching it and thinking about the possibilities of Warner Bros.’ MonsterVerse. Read the review >>
The 2019 movies I saw but wish I hadn’t
The 2019 Hellboy movie had its occasional moments, but it was overall very unfocused and there was so little good in it that I think my life may have actually been made slightly worse by seeing it.
Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw
Hobbs & Shaw is the type of movie that feels like a colossal waste of time mostly because it has nothing new or interesting to say or put on screen, but it’s also a big waste because it cost $200 million to make. Utterly and ridiculously unspectacular, uninspiring, and unnecessarily stupid. And I love Vanessa Kirby. And I didn’t hate Fate of the Furious.
The one 2019 movie I couldn’t sit through
If you like the feeling of being lost in a muddy, ugly movie both visually and psychologically while feeling like you’re definitely suffocating even though your airways are completely unblocked and your breathing is actually pretty steady and unstrained, then you might like The Lighthouse. But you’d also have to feel like watching a movie about two lighthouse keepers and psychological terror. Not a total waste, but definitely not for me.
The worst movie I saw in 2019
Men in Black: International
I was never into the Men in Black movies even back in their heyday, and International continues in that I-don’t-care spirit while also stripping its stars, Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth, of anything that makes them stand out as interesting or special or worth watching.
The 2019 movies I missed but meant to see
- Ash is Purest White
- A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
- First Love
- Just Mercy
- The Mustang
- The Wandering Earth
The very good movies of 2019
- Brittany Runs a Marathon
- Ford v Ferrari
- Honey Boy
- The Last Black Man in San Francisco
- Late Night
- Little Women (2019)
- The Peanut Butter Falcon
- Ready or Not
- Under the Silver Lake
- Wild Rose
And everything else I saw in 2019
- Alita: Battle Angel
- Captain Marvel
- Dolemite Is My Name
- Dragon Ball Super: Broly
- Happy Death Day 2U
- John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum
- Long Shot
- Pokémon: Detective Pikachu
- Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
- Terminator: Dark Fate
- Uncut Gems
So how did the expected-to-be banner year of 2019 in entertainment turn out? With the end of the Infinity Saga and the closing of the first gigantic arc of the Marvel Universe? How well did Game of Thrones stick its landing? The final conclusion of the FoX-Men? And the last chapter of the Skywalker saga?
Mmm. Buh. Sneh.
But y’know what? I’ll take it!
What makes up the majority of entertainment content when it comes to the 2010s now that we’re outside of them and looking back is hot takes and fighting words. Words designed to arouse a response, usually anger and division, directors telling us what movies do and don’t constitute cinema who don’t realize how elitist their words come across and a media landscape more concerned with how those words can fracture and separate us rather than with providing us their proper context.
It’s this same mentality that brings us thoughts like movies are getting worse and Hollywood is running out of ideas and there’s nothing but sequels and reboots, thoughts coming from people who, on average, go to the movies fewer than six times a year. My favourite movie this year was a comedy about a young Nazi boy with Hitler as his imaginary best friend towards the end of the second World War that gave me hope for the world. Eight movies out of my Top 10 were original properties with no ties to existing franchises or IPs. There are good, original movies out there, just as any movie, regardless of its ties to other properties or places in a cinematic universe, can also be good. You just have to seek them out, give them a chance, and think about them more than just a little bit.
So as much as Game of Thrones season eight may have disappointed or Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker may have failed to spark enough fire to burn our pessimism away, I’ll take those pieces as they are. I may not have loved every aspect of how those pieces ended their franchises, but I’ll take those types of works over those of the decade previous, where cynical Michael Bay Transformers movies that looked down on humanity or sloppy X-Men movies that had almost no respect for their source material or fans typified what it meant to be an entertainment franchise.
That’s what the 2010s and in particular the Marvel Cinematic Universe were good for: Upping the game, even if not all of us noticed or were willing to give it that credit. And that’s why I continue to be at least a little excited to go see a new movie. Because now there’s hope — a 23-episode, multibillion dollar juggernaut to show us the way.
Oh, and our (my) Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker review should be up sometime soon.