Best and worst of wide release movies in 2019
Strong adaptations of familiar stories, but also some dreadful scripts and performances
Directors Benny and Josh Safdie double down on the pure rush of their 2017 success Good Time with this adrenaline-soaked thriller. Adam Sandler gives the performance of the year as Howard Ratner, a New York City jeweler and danger addict barreling through the halls of power in search of the ultimate win. It’s great to get such a powerful reminder of Sandler’s remarkable talent before he wastes the next five to 10 years sleepwalking through made-for-Netflix comedies. The relentlessness energy of the protagonist in Uncut Gems is matched only by the Safdie brothers’ direction.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
It’s so easy to luxuriate in the sights and sounds of Quentin Tarantino’s historical fantasy that you could overlook the richness of the text. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is Tarantino’s most personal film, a career-encapsulating look at the ways that violence shapes our lives, both onscreen and off. As soon-to-be has-beens navigating the shifting tides of 1969 Hollywood, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt deliver the most emotionally vulnerable performances of their careers.
This sun-drenched, psychedelia-tinged horror film from Hereditary director Ari Aster haunted me like nothing else released in 2019. Florence Pugh gives a gut-wrenching turn as a grieving student who follows her turd of a boyfriend to a festival in Sweden, only to find terrors beyond comprehension. Filled to the brim with beautifully disturbing images and ideas, Midsommar largely unfurls in broad daylight, with nowhere to hide.
Toy Story 4
Nobody except the suits at Disney clamored for a fourth Toy Story movie, and yet Pixar somehow made an unnecessary sequel that feels indispensable. The central plot gets recycled from pieces of the previous two entries, while the Buzz and Woody dynamic seems dramatically pointless. Toy Story 4 instead finds its soul and meaning in a collection of new and engaging toys, especially the semi-suicidal Forky (Tony Hale) and the dorky daredevil Duke Kaboom (Keanu Reeves).
A sixth film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel might seem even less necessary than a fourth Toy Story. However, writer-director Greta Gerwig makes the material feel vital and modern, delivering an equally challenging and crowd-pleasing movie. Rather than a straightforward adaptation, Gerwig takes a nonlinear approach to the story, focusing on the relationships between the March sisters. Saorise Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson and Laura Dern lead an excellent ensemble cast.
Like Tarantino in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, M. Night Shyamalan reexamines his cinematic past with Glass. Instead of the culmination to a grand career, though, Shyamalan reaches his rock bottom of hacky gimmicks and clueless storytelling. James McAvoy gives a game effort, but Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson seem thoroughly defeated by the dreadful script.
Just as swollen and garish and painfully unnecessary as the four other Disney live-action remakes of animated films released in 2019. So why single out Aladdin for scorn? Because you can never unsee the horror of a dance sequence directed by Guy Ritchie.
Given full access to The Beatles songbook and an irresistible story idea, director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Richard Curtis manage to make a film more disastrous than 1978’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Absent of any recognizable human emotions, Yesterday misunderstands The Beatles, but also all music, all art, fame, love, death and so much more.
Captain Marvel was more of the same Marvel Cinematic Universe tripe, but Avengers: Endgame was the most of the same MCU tripe. There were 21 of these movies released this decade, with the anti-climactic Endgame functioning only as slavering fan service. Avengers: Infinity War at least had the good taste to abstain from Jeremy Renner. No such luck in Endgame.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette
Frozen 2 and Hobbs & Shaw were louder and dumber, but neither film disheartened me more than this lifeless scribble from director Richard Linklater. Even Cate Blanchett can’t breathe life into the role of the title character, an increasingly reclusive and antisocial genius. Where’d You Go Bernadette is Linklater’s 19th feature film, and it’s also his worst.