YIN/YANG REVIEWS Presents: The Best and Worst of 2019
Updated: Mar 30, 2020
By Derek May:
It's been an interesting year for film. While IMDB lists a slight dropoff in releases from over 12,000 in 2018 to just under 11,000 this year, 2019 has conjured some of the biggest comic tentpoles in history alongside some truly beautiful and intimate indies. Netflix especially has established itself as a premiere player in the game, churning out a number of stories gracing the inevitable "Best of" lists across the Internet. And we here at Flapper Press are not immune, and thus we present to you our second annual Best & Worst Lists of the past year (click here for a look at last year's list).
As usual, I'll note an important disclaimer: as much I have tried, and have wanted to, I haven't been able to catch as much of the year's releases as I'd have liked. I've missed out on a few of the biggies, such as Parasite, Little Women, Cats, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Uncut Gems, 1917, Richard Jewell. Still others I didn't warm to nearly as much as other critics, it is a highly subjective game, after all.
Below you will find my top rankings for films deemed of special narrative and artistic excellence from the past year. Movies serve multiple purposes: sometimes just escapist delight, sometimes explorations of the darkest human condition.
But only the best are able to find that ever elusive balance between story and character, vision and execution, performance and engagement.
I'm confident any one of these fine works delivers the viewer the emotional satisfaction and cinematic wonder we love from our films.
And so without further ado . . .
1) Marriage Story
A moving and potent exploration of the reality of divorce when both parties start out amicably but slowly allow themselves to succumb to their internal and external demons. Raw and intense performances from Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver prove their formidable chops. One of the most honest yet visceral portrayals of the end of a marriage but not the end of a relationship. Powerful stuff.
2) Ford v Ferrari
A story both classic and modern, reflecting themes of comradery, perseverance, and innovation while at its heart focusing on the personal triumphs and tragedies of two courageous men.
Director Ari Aster’s haunting dark folktale is a masterpiece of open-veined tension. A psychological dissection of tragedy and cult mentality, Florence Pugh’s gut-wrenching performance anchors one of the most original and skillfully executed horror films in years.
One of the most original concepts we’ve seen in a good while, alongside some remarkable breakout performances. A warm, delightful romp that has you cheering for love as much as tapping your toes to the music of the greatest band of all time.
Joker proves comic book films can have as much depth and meaning for us and our world as any other film: an exploration of the human condition, the stratification of society, the (mis)treatment and ostracization of mental illness, the glamorization of the outlaw, and the outcome of a lifetime of abuse culminating in one bad day for one disturbed individual that could be any one of us under the right circumstances.
6) The Farewell
Taking a cultural peculiarity and making it a story universally recognized, this intimate family story is touching in all the most beautiful ways. Comedian Awkwafina demonstrates she’s the real deal, holding center of this quirky but relatable family grappling with a moral dilemma with no clear answer.
A daring portrayal not just of an icon but of a man’s search for love. The filmmakers and cast deliver a soulful experience that takes you to ecstatic heights and forbidding lows, all to better appreciate the man (and men) behind it all—but more importantly, that even our rock gods are mortal.
8) Dolemite Is My Name
A hilarious and touching story of a failed comedian who refused to settle for anything less than fame on his own terms. A fitting tribute to an icon, littered with memorable performances that tug the heartstrings and tickle the funnybone.
9) The Lighthouse
A dark meditation about the sins of the past catching up under debilitating isolation. Hypnotic and transitory, the film is a deep dive into the dreamlike mind of director Robert Eggers, who presents his otherworldly story with artistic grace and soulful dimension.
A gem that laid buried for too many, this raunchy comedy from director Olivia Wilde breaks down the doors to the R-rated coming-of-age boys club. Equal parts keenly intelligent and absurdly hilarious, the film deftly navigates the strength of the female bond and offers a fresh, modern take on Gen Z attitudes and relationships.
Lego Movie 2: The Second Part
Alita: Battle Angel
As there is Yin, so must there be Yang. I always find this list the harder of the two, not because there aren't plenty of terrible films to choose from, but because one doesn't tend to waste valuable movie-watching time on the obvious stinkers. Still, a few slip through, and thus we present our offerings of some of the biggest disappointments of the year.
Escape Plan: Extractors
They say film is a director's medium, but no film succeeds without brave actors willing to mine the trials and tribulations of a worthy character. And so, we offer some recognition to twenty of the most impressive performances presented this year (in no particular order).
Florence Pugh – Midsommar
Christian Bale – Ford v Ferrari
Joaquin Phoenix – Joker
Scarlett Johansson – Marriage Story
Adam Driver – Marriage Story
Awkwafina – The Farewell
Ana De Armas – Knives Out
Roman Griffin Davis – Jojo Rabbit
Tom Hanks – A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Matthew Rhys - A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Eddie Murphy – Dolemite Is My Name
Da'Vine Joy Randolph – Dolemite is My Name
Joe Pesci – The Irishman
Matthew McConaughey – The Beach Bum
Jennifer Lopez – Hustlers
Leonardo DiCaprio – Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood
Taron Egerton – Rocketman
Willem Defoe - The Lighthouse
Robert Pattinson – The Lighthouse
Renée Zellweger – Judy
Derek May, a native of San Antonio, TX, is editor-in-chief for Flapper Press. He has
written nearly 50 movie reviews for movieweb.com and completed 13 original feature film and television screenplays, many of which have been winners or finalists in such prestigious competitions as the Walt Disney and Nicholl Fellowships, the Austin Film Festival, and the Creative World Awards. He served as a judge for 10 years for the Austin Film Festival and Texas Film Institute screenplay competitions. His latest project has been the highly acclaimed stop-motion animation fan series Highlander: Veritas, currently in production on its second season.