It’s rapidly* becoming clear that writing and uploading my movie lists in a timely fashion is not one of my strength. As I write this, it’s mid-October, 2021.
*or slowly, depending on how you engage with these lists
All the films on this list were watched pre-pandemic. It was a whole different world. I’ve grown and matured and moved country since writing these rankings. I was a whole different person; the very act of writing this list is like diving into a previous version of myself, exploring who I used to be.
Sounds fun – let’s go!
1. Knives Out
Until December, I was confident that nothing could knock Avengers: Endgame off the top spot for 2019. Endgame was…it was more than a movie. It was the culmination of 20+ films that had come before. It was the end of a saga. And it not only managed to accomplish that with flying colors, but it was a damned good movie as well.
And then along came Knives Out.
Before this, I hadn’t really been a fan of Rian Johnson. Star Wars: The Last Jedi had made it into my #2 spot for 2017, but that was purely because I basically failed to see any movies. I’d seen-and-not-dug Brick, and I’d thought Looper was an interesting idea, but the final product disappointed me.
But Knives Out. Oh my god, Knives Out.
For context, I’m a big fan of murder mysteries. I was raised on Agatha Christie books, so you give me a remote manor, a cast of suspicious characters, and an over-the-top detective, and I’m in. But then to subvert the genre so effectively…god damn. This film blew me away. I saw it three times in cinemas, and I’ve seen it several times since. It’s just flawless.
As mentioned, this movie had a lot to live up to. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Infinity War, but (like many) I was sort of invested in the saga at this point, so I happily trundled along to close out the second phase of the MCU.
And then I cried.
2019 was my divorce year. At the start of the year, I told my husband that I wasn’t happy. By the end of the year, I had a visa for another country. I was leaving not only my marriage, but my child, and (as you’d hope) I had a lot of feelings tied up in the whole situation.
So when a major character has to say goodbye to their kid, when they’re leaving their kid forever for reasons that can’t possibly make sense to a child…oh my god, I cried. I cried and I cried and I cried.
I’d expected to enjoy this movie. I hadn’t expected it to affect me so personally. As I said, after seeing this movie (several times, loving it just as much each time) – I’d thought there was no way that another movie could knock it off the list.
I loved Endgame so much (the Time Heist nature of it, the jokes, the resolutions, even the fights) that it actually made me want to go back and watch the few MCU films I’d missed.
3. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
One of the strange things about writing these lists way after the fact: as my opinions are less fresh, they shift a little. If you’d asked me, I would’ve guessed that The Irishman ranked above this film – my memories of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood it are that it was good, but too long, and was a bit of a thematic mess.
Apparently I liked it more than I remember!
I’m a big Tarantino film, and two of his four latest films (Django and Basterds) are actually my favourites of his work. So long as he’s making movies, I’ll keep going to see them. He’s the undisputed master of scene, and this movie was no exception – the scenes on the ranch stick with me to this day. The cinematography was amazing, the characters were compelling…I’m going to have to rewatch this one, and see where it lands for me a few years later.
4. Plus One
In all the time I’ve been writing these lists, this may be the least I remember about a film. I obviously liked it at the time, but I just read the plot summary and…I literally couldn’t tell you a single moment or joke from this movie. I’m a big fan of rom-coms; this is a rom-com. If I rewatch it, I’ll edit in what I liked about it.
Now this one I do remember. The three-word pitch would be “Superbad with girls” – that probably sounds reductive, but Superbad is one of my favourite teen comedies. This didn’t reach the same heights for me, but it’s funny and charming and had great arcs for all the characters and was just exquisitely directed. If you’re into teen comedies, this is an extremely high recommend.
6. Dolemite is My Name
I really didn’t have high hopes for this one. I don’t think I’d enjoyed an Eddie Murphy film since Shrek, which was made full two decades ago. But I’m a sucker for movies about movies (or movies about TV) (or TV about TV), and the based-on-a-true-story adventures of Rudy Ray Moore was just incredibly fun from start to finish. It hit every beat it was going for, and I absolutely adored it.
The Irishman – despite not even making my top 6 list, this is probably the film I’ve thought about the most (aside from Knives Out). Generally speaking, I like Scorcese films (like most, my favourite is The Departed), and this is just Pure Scorcese. Scorcese turned up to eleven. All the Martin you could possibly want, a star-studded cast telling an incredible “true” story. If I were to rank this list today, I can’t imagine putting this any lower than #3. The one obvious downside, of course, is the length. This film is L-O-motherfuckin’-N-G. I believed I watched it over the course of a week, which is not my ideal way to enjoy a piece of media.
Toy Story 4 – After the tour de force that was Toy Story 3, I really wanted to love this one. In the tradition of the Toy Story films, it’s hilarious – Ducky and Bunny are a riot every time they’re onscreen, Forky’s recurring suicide attempts are such deliciously dark comedy. But (much like Hollywood) the ending is a bit of a thematic mess, and I don’t watch these movies to see beloved duos split up? Did someone at Disney/Pixar go through a messy divorce or something: why is every new movie about breaking up established partnerships?
Jojo Rabbit – This was just really good film-making. Again, I’m surprised this didn’t make the list; my memories of Jojo Rabbit are so positive. This is why I make sure to write up my rankings as close to the year-end as possible; they shift so much as my memories fade. I remember loving this, although feeling that it was a bit slow to start. Damn did it end with a bang though. Damn!
El Camino – I apparently liked this one a lot more than all my friends who watched it. I admittedly had it on in the background while I was cleaning; I heard every word, but I wasn’t looking at the screen for the entire film, so I missed stuff like Walter White’s humorously-oversized noggin. Still, I thought this was a really satisfying “bonus episode” of Breaking Bad, and gave a great conclusion to Jessie’s arc.
Captain Marvel – Yet another film which I would rank higher if making the list today, but that’s likely due to the backlash. I watched the movie, I liked the movie, and apparently I didn’t even think it worthy of runner-up position…but then when the internet declared it the Worst Movie Ever, my white knight tendencies kicked in, and now I have really fond memories of the film (especially the twist).
A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood – As an Australian who grew up with no direct exposure to Mr. Rogers (I knew him from stuff like like The Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny), I thought this was cute! I really enjoyed the acting and the characters. I went home and did some reading on Fred, and just generally had a good time. But it didn’t wow me as…y’know, a movie. It felt more like a TV special.
Late Night – This one I have fewer fond memories of. I wanted to like this, I really did. Great cast, great premise, great creative team. More than anything, it reminded me of a Ricky Gervais film; like it was declared ‘finished’ about three drafts too early.
Rocketman – In direct opposition to Captain Marvel, this one was ruined by the hype. Everyone, for reasons I still don’t understand, was talking about how this revolutionized movie musicals, how this was a musical biopic done differently. Maybe it was because of the impact Patrick Willems’ video essay had on me, but it really felt like more of the same. Fun, but absolutely nothing special.
Spider-Man: Far From Home – This is going to be the last Tom Holland Spider-Man I see, because oh-my-word are they not for me. I just don’t get anything out of watching Peter Parker struggle with billionaire problems, while working really hard to fight the poor. I also came into this one off the high off Endgame, excited to see what a post-Blip world looked like. Exactly like a pre-Blip world, it seemed. Hoorah.
Frozen II – Big Joels’ video essay has warmed me to this one a little, but I just don’t think it works as a sequel. Half the characters have nothing to do, the plot is a shambles, and…look, I know it was never going to happen, I know, but I really wanted Elsa to be gay in this movie. Disney were in a position to do the most impactful pro-gay move that they (or any media company) has done in years, and…Iknowitwasnevergoingtohappen, but wouldn’t it have been great if it did?
Songs were nice, at least.
The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part – God, I couldn’t tell you a single thing that happened in this movie. The first one was cute; I remember that the second had a satisfying resolution in the real-world segments, but I don’t recall anything beyond that. Very much the sequel that nobody asked for.
Marriage Story – Okay, now we’re moving into the movies I actively disliked. This one, for no fault of the film itself. Remember how I mentioned 2019 was my divorce year? Well, watching a movie about a really horrible divorce, in which one person wants to move to LA to pursue TV, and they have a son called Henry…yeah, this one was rough. I finished it, but almost wish that I hadn’t.
The Rise of Skywalker – I could write literally thousands of words about how bad this film was, how much I hated it, how every aspect of its creation was poorly thought-out to the point of offensive…but it’s late, so I’ll just say: 0/10. Zero out of freaking ten.
Yesterday – Conversely, this movie was fun! Fun, but also disappointing. The premise is so rich, the world asks such interesting questions…but the movie itself basically picks the least interesting answer to every one of them. I would love to read the original script (before Richard Curtis did his draft) just to see another direction this fascinating idea could be taken.
Us – This movie, I’ll say up-front, wasn’t for me. I’m a white guy, I don’t enjoy films which are primarily metaphor, and I’m not even that into horror. But even factoring all of that in, I really hated this movie. It’s the only film I’ve ever seen which I felt got worse and worse by the moment; it goes from a strong opening to perhaps my least favourite closing scene of all time.
In December each year, I try to cram in as many films as I can from the past year, to make sure I haven’t missed any gems. It felt like 2019 had more movies than usual, so I ended up bailing on some to fit in the rest. Notably:
What Men Want, which…yeah, you can very quickly tell what kind of film this is trying to be, and I knew it wasn’t going to make my list.
Dora and the Lost City of Gold – several people had told me this was “surprisingly good”, but I think when you start watching it with that in mind, the element of surprise is lost.
Uncut Gems – everyone loved this, but hot damn did I hate Adam Sandler’s character. If I hadn’t forced myself to finish Marriage Story, I might have given this one more of a chance, but I just wasn’t able to watch any more unlikable characters in 2019.
How To Train Your Dragon 3 – I liked (but didn’t love) the first one, disliked the second, so I don’t even know why I started the third.
Klaus – This is another movie which everyone in the world except me seemed to love. I don’t even know why; it’s my genre (animated) (also, Christmas), but it just didn’t do anything for me, and I bailed after an hour.
I Lost My Body, Long Shot, Isn’t It Romantic?, Always Be My Maybe – I’ll happily give indie films a look, in the hopes of catching a gem, but I turned all of these off pretty quickly. Nothing wrong with them (that I can recall), I’m just panning for gold when I’m watching a bunch of films to write my lists.
The Lion King, Aladdin, Dumbo – I have a simple “no more Disney remakes” rule. It’s been serving me well.
Joker – I’m honestly just not that into superhero movies, and that goes double for “superhero movies which aren’t really superhero movies”, like this or Logan. One of my best friends swears by this flick, so I’ll probably check it out at some point, but I really just don’t think it’s for me.
Detective Pikachu – Conversely, I think this is for me, I’ve just never been in a position to watch it. I started it last year, but clicked away after about twenty minutes. I do hope to finish it at some point, it seems fun.
John Wick 3 – I’m still yet to catch the second one, to my chagrin
It: Chapter 2, Zombieland: Double Tap – If these had been easily-streamable, I probably would have checked them out. As it was, I was warned that they were each a tepid version of the first, both of which I was comfortably lukewarm on.
Cats, Men In Black: International, Doctor Sleep – I heard literally nothing good about these films, and quite happily skipped them.