Judging from the following list, 2019 was a year of tense situations. Maybe you found yourself pressured to burn a book by a rude sibling or a Hitler Youth leader. Perhaps you tried to have a nice vacation that was interrupted by inarticulate doppelgängers or a handsome man with a fishbowl on his head.
Alternatively, you might have tried to confront someone who murdered your family patriarch or snapped the fingers of a universe-altering gauntlet that disintegrated half your family tree. Or the confrontation might have been even closer to home and you dealt with a messy divorce or, worse still, a limited time frame to make a killer batch of ram-don. Regardless, you needed a band of brothers, collection of co-workers or a swathe of sisters to get you through it.
So seek out your siblings, because it’s time for a comprehensive list of Brian Bolt’s positively favorite movies of 2019. Enjoy and try not to stray…
10. Spider-Man: Far From Home
If this movie were a spider’s dinner, there would be a lot of appealing elements tangled in one web. A class trip with exotic international locales, Jake Gyllenhaal having a blast playing (my boyhood favorite) Spider-Man villain and the best drug-fueled horror scene ever depicted in a Marvel movie. Add to that a winning Tom Holland performance at the center and you’ve got a tasty blockbuster. So go ahead, spider. Feel free to insert your venom, wait for your digestive enzymes to do their work, and suck out all the liquified tissue until only a husk remains… Yep, spiders are weird and, as a culture, we never talk about it.
9. American Factory
Poignant with a terrific sense of humor, American Factory is a documentary that delves into potentially queasy topics (workers’ rights, nationalism, automation, xenophobia). Filmmakers Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar never lose track of the humanity of the players involved as two cultures clash at an Ohio glass factory. A timely story well-told.
Gone are the days of The Tingler, a 1950s cinematic gimmick where filmmaker William Castle placed electric buzzers beneath movie theater seats and had Vincent Price shout from the silver screen, “Ladies and gentlemen, please do not panic. But scream! Scream for your lives because the Tingler is loose in this theater!” Nowadays, we have Sam Mendes working hard to give his audience an immersive experience utilizing a “one-shot” long take aesthetic. He’s aided by the inimitable cinematography of Roger Deakins (go ahead and try to tell me the flare scene isn’t the best five minutes of footage this year) and the comfort of knowing that a jolly good British actor will pop up every twenty minutes or so. It’s a gimmick, to be sure, but I found myself wholly susceptible to it. I’m now absolutely certain I would’ve been screaming in terror at the prospect of the Tingler under my seat.
7. Knives Out
The ideal movie to watch with your family at Thanksgiving. I say this not only because it has enough wit to keep any film snob satisfied and enough plot to keep any wandering mind engaged, but because I did indeed watch this movie with my family at Thanksgiving. Rian Johnson’s masterful whodunit details the aftermath of acclaimed mystery author Harlan Thrombey’s unexpected demise. Cue Daniel Craig’s detective, in a Southern accent thicker than sausage gravy, intoning, “I suspect foul play.” What follows is a cadre of scene-stealing performances from a rogues’ gallery of character actors too numerous to name here. Just know that Knives Out will leave you salivating for a future series of sophisticated Benoit Blanc films. Just make sure you don’t eat too much turkey before watching.
6. Avengers: Endgame
A grand finale to end all grand finales. “But is it actually a finale?” you might ask yourself. Well…shut up. While not an official end to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (i.e. the biggest money-making behemoth in film history), it’s an end to beloved character arcs that have been unwinding for over a decade. At times mournful and, more importantly, silly, Endgame manages to bring the grand Marvel experiment to a satisfying (if not entirely definitive) conclusion. Also, it’s the first of three Scarlett Johansson films on this list. That makes her Brian Bolt’s 2019 Cinematic MVP (Most Vaunted Performer), an honor far more prestigious than multiple Oscar nominations, right? Right.
In 2017, I was gobsmacked by the freshman debuts of Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig. Two years later, they’re cutting the idea of a sophomore slump into ribbons (hopefully not with a pair of golden scissors! Eek!). Peele’s latest directorial effort (more on Gerwig later) is an unexpected twist to the home invasion genre. Lupita Nyong’o is astounding in two different roles, the sympathetic Adelaide and her “tethered” counterpart Red. Peele’s script plays on audience expectations deliciously and, like Get Out, is even more appreciated on a second watch.
The word “Hitchockian” is pretty loaded, I’ll grant you. But how else am I supposed to describe a movie that wields suspense like a freshly-sharpened kitchen knife? Genuine thrill rides like Parasite are hard to come by and Bong Joon-ho delivers with the story of a family who will do anything to claw their way out of a subterranean social class. My qualms against Bong’s previous English-language films Snowpiercer and Okja are rooted in a sense of tonal imbalance, but Parasite turns that perceived fault into an unexpected strength. First, the film is a comedy a manners, then a heist flick, and finally a [REDACTED FOR SPOILER REASONS]. It’s the rare movie that keeps you on the edge of your seat and denies any opportunity for you to get up and use the [REDACTED FOR ETIQUETTE REASONS].
3. Jojo Rabbit
Fox Searchlight’s marketing department calls Jojo Rabbit an anti-hate satire, but I’ll go ahead and call it the funniest movie of the year. Taika Waititi’s madcap sensibility is let loose once again, this time in the final days of WWII in Nazi Germany. His previous directorial efforts are wonderful (Hunt For the Wilderpeople and Thor: Ragnarok have graced this list in previous years), but this time Waititi graduates to something a bit more thoughtful and heartfelt. He essays the role of the nastiest ruler in modern history and, by doing so, demonstrates how fascist ideas can easily (and somewhat contradictorily) root themselves inside the mind of a child. Also, the opening montage is the best cinematic use of the Beatles I’ve ever seen.
2. Marriage Story
A movie that shows you two sides of the same cookie. One side is pretty with gooey chocolate chips, the other is crispy and tastes a little burnt. A marriage can’t be one side, it has to be both, and Marriage Story does a fabulous job showing both sides, crumbs and all. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are both Oscar-nominated (deservingly) and Noah Baumbach wisely gives them room to act the hell out of his script. A throwback score by Randy Newman gives the film a timeless atmosphere, helping the viewer through the highs and lows of a fraught relationship. The experience of watching could have easily been dour, but Baumbach leavens the film with plenty of heart and humor. It’s enough to make a crumbling marriage as delicate and satisfying as a crumbling cookie.
1. Little Women
It’s not hard to make a great movie when you’ve got the best ensemble cast of the year. Timothée. Saoirse. Florence. Meryl. I mean…Tracey Letts is in this movie, folks! The only way Greta Gerwig could’ve satisfied my Lady Bird lovin’ heart even more would have been to cast Laurie Metcalf as a hansom cab driver who would pester Jo March enough to jump out of the carriage. The four titular women are all believably sisters who love, hate, and humor each other while coming of age in a world where it’s not ideal to be a woman. There’s not a bad performance to be found but I’ll give particular praise to Saoirse Ronan (our finest silver screen actress) and Florence Pugh (for making the appalling act of book-burning sympathetic). Gerwig’s script is remarkable in its verbal simplicity and structural complexity. It’s her guiding hand as writer/director that delivers not only the definitive adaptation of an American classic, but my definitive pick for best movie of 2019.
And lastly, here’s the only Oscar ballot that matters. Look on, ye mighty, and despair.
Will Win: 1917
Should Win: Little Women
Although I’d like to see the terrific Little Women take home the prize, 1917 seems more likely. Its expertly-crafted gimmick and gorgeous visuals leave the WWI epic poised to balance Oscar gold on top of its Brodie helmet.
Will Win: Sam Mendes, 1917
Should Win: Bong Joon-ho, Parasite
The Academy loves a Steadicam. Make it the whole point of your movie and they’ll gobble it up even more. Gerwig deserves a win in this category, but, of the nominated directors, I’d very much like to see a Bong Joon-ho upset.
Will Win: Adam Driver, Marriage Story
Should Win: Adam Driver, Marriage Story
Even though he’s the frontrunner, I can’t bear to write Joaquin’s name for “Will Win”. If you want a good Joker movie, watch The Dark Knight. If you want a gritty Joaquin Phoenix movie, watch You Were Never Really Here. There’s no reason Todd Phillips or his movie should be in the awards conversation. And before I forget…Adam’s great!
Will Win: Renée Zellweger, Judy
Should Win: Saoirse Ronan, Little Women
Not a terribly strong category. Zellweger’s the frontrunner and people love a comeback narrative. I’d give it to Saoirse, though, the best actress the world’s got right now.
Best Supporting Actor:
Will Win: Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
Should Win: Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
Because Brad hasn’t been this fucking cool in a long time. Shout-out to Mr. Hanks for showing some range as Mr. Rogers.
Best Supporting Actress:
Will Win: Laura Dern, Marriage Story
Should Win: Florence Pugh, Little Women
The strongest category of the ceremony. There’s not a performance of the bunch that I didn’t love. Kathy Bates made me want to call my mother, Scarlett Johansson made me want to call my mother, but Florence Pugh was the only one who made me want to call Oscar.
Best Original Screenplay:
Will Win: Bong Joon-ho and Han Jin-won, Parasite
Should Win: Rian Johnson, Knives Out
Both are solid scripts, but gimme Daniel Craig being droll any day of the week.
Best Adapted Screenplay:
Will Win: Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit
Should Win: Greta Gerwig, Little Women
Two of the best-written films of the year. Don’t make me choose! (Fine, I’ll go with Gerwig since she’s so structurally bold but, seriously, no more toughies!)
Best Animated Feature:
Will Win: Toy Story 4
Should Win: Toy Story 4
Even though Missing Link is the most visually appealing of the bunch, Laika’s stories never quite seem to be on Pixar’s level.
Best Animated Short:
Will Win: Hair Love
Should Win: Hair Love
It says a lot that I’m not picking one of the three stop-motion shorts. I love stop-motion. But not as much as I love Hair Love.
Will Win: Roger Deakins, 1917
Should Win: Roger Deakins, 1917
Even when it’s a gimmick, Deakins delivers mighty visuals. Go up there and claim your well-deserved second statuette, sir!
Best Film Editing:
Will Win: Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland, Ford v Ferrari
Should Win: Yang Jinmo, Parasite
It’s probably going to go to the guys who made a fun car race, but I’d give it to the guy who helped create the best suspense sequences of 2019.
Best International Feature Film
Will Win: Parasite
Should Win: Parasite
This one’s locked up tighter than Snowpiercer’s caboose
Best Documentary Feature:
Will Win: American Factory
Should Win: American Factory
Fun fact, composer Chad Cannon incorporated sounds of glass into the score of a film about a glass factory. Well…? What are you waiting for? Give it the Oscar already.
Best Documentary Short Subject:
Will Win: Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)
Should Win: Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)
While its title can’t claim to be the soul of wit, LTSIAW (IYAG) was the best of a terrific bunch. Shout-out to In the Absence for filling me with the most rage of any film (short or otherwise) this year.
Best Production Design:
Will Win: Barbara Ling, Nancy Haigh, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
Should Win: Barbara Ling, Nancy Haigh, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
For transporting us back to the Swingin’ Sixties.
Best Costume Design:
Will Win: Arianne Phillips, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
Should Win: Arianne Phillips, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
Because, oh boy, were those Sixties Swingin’.
Best Original Score:
Will Win: Randy Newman, Marriage Story
Should Win: Randy Newman, Marriage Story
This one belongs to either Randy Newman or Thomas Newman. Slight chance Gary Oldman will sneak in for an upset.
Best Original Song:
Will Win: “Into the Unknown” from Frozen II
Should Win: “Into the Unknown” from Frozen II
Although Frozen II got snubbed in the Animated category, Elsa’s probably going to go home with an Oscar statuette. Then she’ll cover it with ice, give it sentience, and have it wreak vengeance, golem-like, on all those who dared snub Frozen II in the Animated category.
Best Live Action Short:
Will Win: The Neighbors’ Window
Should Win: The Neighbors’ Window
Starring the always-great Maria Dizzia, this one’s got the feel of a great short story.
Best Makeup and Hairstyling:
Will Win: Kazu Hiro, Anne Morgan and Vivian Baker, Bombshell
Should Win: Kazu Hiro, Anne Morgan and Vivian Baker, Bombshell
Winston Churchill, Dick Cheny, Roger Ailes. If you can make a skinny actor look fat, you get an Oscar, baby.
Best Sound Editing
Will Win: Donald Sylvester, Ford v Ferrari
Should Win: Donald Sylvester, Ford v Ferrari
Best Sound Mixing:
Will Win: Paul Massey, David Giammarco, and Steven A. Morrow, Ford v Ferrari
Should Win: Paul Massey, David Giammarco, and Steven A. Morrow, Ford v Ferrari
Best Visual Effects:
Will Win: Guillaume Rocheron, Greg Butler and Dominic Tuohy, 1917
Should Win: Guillaume Rocheron, Greg Butler and Dominic Tuohy, 1917
Subtlety’s probably going to win the day here. Lookin’ at you, De Niro’s electric blue eyes!