While I’ve been waiting to finish off the Best of 2019, I’ve been preparing the Best of 2020. It’s been that kind of a year. In that time, I’ve also come to learn that there needs to be a change-up for the style choices we take in presenting this kind of film discussion. So, I hope you’re cool with a ton of film talk during the last Holiday period of 2020.
Screw it, if the Oscars can delay themselves…I can delay things too!
5) Doctor Sleep (2019)
Doctor Sleep is the film that grew the most on me in 2020. I kinda hated the novel, as it marked King’s continued decline into spooky Grisham & Patteron levels of lazy writing. Why should a Shining sequel work nearly 40 years after the fact? Before the literary nerds start crying, I’m comparing it to the film more than the book. Even Mike Flanagan got tired of the book about an hour into Doctor Sleep.
2019 was a year of abundance compared to 2020. While both years had many gems that dotted the landscape, there is always one film a year that finds its way into auto repeat for me at any moment. Doctor Sleep was watched in the AV Theater roughly 38 times in 2020 alone.
I haven’t started using MUBI or Letterboxed more. The HTPC just logs films loaded into the system more than ever. What does mean in relation to being The Best of 2019? Well, it’s that elusive factor that means so much to the Premium Cable generation. The ones before us had the early onset of video stores and arthouse theaters.
My generation is defined by the R rated and oft-kilter films we had to sneak on HBO, TMC, Showtime, Spotlight and points beyond. The kids that watched La Cage Aux Folles and Frankenhooker in segments of when they caught them on TV. Segmented creative viewing didn’t make a comeback in 2019, but I feel it did better in 2020.
4) Midsommar (2019)
Midsommar is a film I’ve talked about in the summer and later in the Fall. What makes the film work for me is that it’s the first real modern take on Pastoral Horror that I enjoyed. For those that follow my limited excursions on social media, you got to see that sweet Durieux print for The Wicker Man I had framed and carefully adorned.
Pastoral horror works in a way that American audiences have been trained to ignore. For 2019 and years before, audiences have been told to see anything out of the norm as dangerous. Whether it’s the hick filled hills of early Craven and Hooper to the foreign wilds as seen in Midsommar; the unknown is scary.
What made Midsommar pop so well in 2019 was that it made the unknown inviting. It’s very rare to have a horror movie where the supposed villains want the lead to join them. Not in the vampiric sense, but more like we can offer you a better life. There are cult themes that linger throughout the narrative, but I’ll let the video essayists tackle that one.
3) Uncut Gems (2019)
Uncut Gems finally merged my loves of Celtics basketball, cringe stress and murder! Adam Sandler deserved a nomination, but I can understand why he didn’t have a shot in Hell to win. The Safdie Brothers are slowly morphing into the Kings of Stress Cinema. While anything that dares to bother a modern audience is considered stressful, Uncut Gems brought the goods for real in 2019.
Taking place in the seedy world of jewelry brokering on the East Coast, this is the kind of film that people still thinks Scorsese makes. Outside of using the This Is How I Win meme too much in 2020, Uncut Gems was the pleasant final surprise that 2019 had to offer.
I just hate that we haven’t received a ton of Safdie news during the Pandemic. The new Batman seems to be mimicking their style by way of a loving cinematic handie to Fincher. But, I want to hear more from the brothers. Hell, I keep watching their Adventures video that Criterion threw together on a repeat.
That’s the thing a movie like Uncut Gems makes really matter for you. It shows you the films you like and why they matter in 2019 and beyond.
2) Jojo Rabbit (2019)
Jojo Rabbit is why I enjoy Waititi. He’s the kind of filmmaker that 2019 and 2020 and maybe 2021 needs. A creative maverick that is really an old studio hand in disguise in terms of sensibility. For the people trying to make him sound avant-garde, you need to check your history. Whether it’s Mike Nichols in the late 60s or Hal Ashby in the 70s, creative quirky folk appear when a time needs them the most.
World War II and all of its trappings are getting used by the emotionally unstable as shorthand and a protective guard. The source novel for Jojo Rabbit is half a cup of depressing. So, I appreciate that Waititi was able to find joy in the darkest of moments. Plus, I enjoy films about kids make the most out of crap situations.
The same people that bemoan making a coming-of-age comedy during the end of World War II also hate Scarlett Johansson. Luckily, there is a world that exists outside of the Internet that digs Scarjo just fine. She deserved to win for playing Rosie, as it could’ve been just another motherly role.
What we have in her is a mother for the worst age. She saves a local kid, while also making peace with her daughter’s death. If it wasn’t enough, her husband is surely dead and the last thing she has in the world worships Hitler. That’s where the movie finds its magic.
Jojo exists in 2019 just as well as he did in 1944. Often, the loudest voices online will ask you not to understand others or extend civility. It is seen as weakness in the same circles that ask you consider any variant of humanity that might exist in any waking decision in your life. But, trying to understand why troubled people lash out is not on the menu.
People are fragile and flawed creatures that find themselves drawn to possibly awful shit because their views are flawed. Where some see a monster, others see a symbol of strength. Why? Well, it’s because they need strength in a life that is defined by chaos. That doesn’t make their actions right, but it helps a greater community to understand how to deal with them.
There are too many Jojos in the world without a Rosie to understand them. It’s not your job to mother everyone, but you need to give them the confidence to kick their bullshit out a window. Plus, I love the pseudo French New Wave style ending that hits at the end of the film. I wanted to get that in before some mouthbreather bitched about it being too Wes Anderson.
Crack open a Film Studies book, people.
1) Once Upon A Time…in Hollywood (2019)
Once Upon A Time…in Hollywood is the film I thought would have been straight Boomer fetish material. A period piece with a ton of money behind it turning Los Angeles into its 1969 self. Manson finally gets put down and the hippies are shown as being stupid monsters. If that bothers you, get over it. The hippies got wet and turned into the demon Gremlins that are actively destroying Western Civilization.
2019 gave us Once Upon A Time in Hollywood to show us why they became monsters. While modern generations have streaming and never-ending home video options on tap, Boomers were cemented by the monoculture. Three channels blasting them with the most filtered and direct mainline of entertainment ever. Even when they went to the Drive-In or movie theater, they were still watching the same carefully curated movies in every US market at the time.
In a way, Quentin Tarantino is my IP franchise of choice. Some will take that as a knock that he keeps doing the same movie. He doesn’t, but his obvious love of the same kind of sections of film history I dig makes things quite sympatico. Although, I could take or leave TV Westerns and Dean Martin movies. It still remains true.
But, this movie was more about the power of TV than cinema. When Sharon Tate actually makes her way to the theater to see The Wrecking Crew, it’s a welcome break from every single TV set we are bombarded with in 1969 Los Angeles. Whether it’s the Green Hornet backlot or the side set for Lancer, TV is shown boxing in these massive stars at every chance.
The only time that DiCaprio and Pitt get to break out is in the brief sequence showing how they killed it overseas. I wanted a mini-movie of DiCaprio making schlock for Corbucci and Bava. But, I’ll take the flamethrower finale that we got. All the while, I’ll be waiting for the mass market paperback that is arriving in Summer 2021.
1969 was an important year in the narratives that Hollywood constructed. In a way that hit much like 2019, it was the last year of normalcy as the bigger vibes of changes began pouring into our entertainment. So many are quick to awe over Easy Rider. But, Easy Rider was a shot in the dark for nearly 2 years.
Even when studios got into the mix with films like Bob, Carol, Ted and Alice…it came way late and by their terms. It would be almost 4-5 years post Easy Rider before the cult and mainstream cinema caught up to what Fonda and Hopper were laying down.
But, none of that shit had a girl getting flamethrower’d to death in a pool. 2019 was such a good year.