Friday, January 17, 2020

10 Movies from 2019 That I Loved on Some Level

20. The Kid

This is the Young Guns 2 I wanted.

Dane DeHaan is a hilarious and charming, but also terrifyingly unpredictable Billy the Kid. And the film goes to a lot of effort to make him physically resemble the historical Billy as much as possible.

Ethan Hawke is a sympathetic and heroic, though flawed Pat Garrett. Chris Pratt is also excellent as a shocking, disturbingly evil character, but that's unrelated to my hopes for a new Billy the Kid movie.

One of my disappointments with Young Guns 2 was that it clearly wanted to explore the effect of Billy's fame on him and his friends, but the first film had already done that and in a more entertaining way. And the sequel undermines its own effort with a framing device that's only tangentially related to the theme. Structurally, Young Guns 2 is actually about convincing Bradley Whitford that Billy is still alive. Which could have been a cool movie, too, but isn't what any of the bulk of the movie is really about.

The Kid doesn't have that problem. It's very much about fame and the consequences of actions, but it explores this through a couple of new characters who meet Billy and Pat and have to make some decisions about what path they're going to choose. It's a focused story with great characters.

19. Godzilla: King of the Monsters

As a fan, I feel extremely well-serviced. Great kaiju action with some updated favorite classic monsters. Excellent cast of human characters. I have nothing to complain about.

18. Captain Marvel

Hardcore. Emotional and inspirational. Captain Marvel got me stoked for Endgame in a whole, different way than I had been before. If Endgame can be said to be disappointing on any level, it was in not giving enough time to Carol's return and role in fighting Thanos, but Endgame already had a lot to do.

17. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

More ambitious than the first one. It builds the world out in some cool ways. It doesn't quite hit everything it shoots for, but it succeeds at what's most important to me: the Maleficent / Aurora relationship and the theme of Love's triumph over Fear. Maleficent herself is a glorious goth goddess and I want twelve more movies in this series.

16. Ready or Not

As scary, exciting, and funny as I hoped. Samara Weaving is badass. There are a couple of situations where she requires rescuing when I would have preferred her getting out on her own, but she's plenty active. A great character with a great look. Running around fighting bad guys in a wedding dress and sneakers is amazing. More people should do it.

15. The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

It's hard to surprise while delivering more of what people liked the first time. But even though Second Part uses the same techniques as the first one did to present its story, it does it in service to a theme that I appreciated even more than the earlier one.

14. Crawl

I grew up in Florida near areas like this, so I have a lot of love for the setting of Crawl. That means that I also know that gators don't usually behave this way, but they're unpredictable enough that I was able to accept that - for the purposes of the film - maybe these gators do. Anyway, it's a great setting filled with a couple of great characters in a great predicament. I really liked Haley (Kaya Scodelario) and her dad (Barry Pepper) and was super invested in seeing them get out of the gator-infested crawlspace beneath their house as hurricane floodwaters rise and rise some more and oh, there are even more gators outside.

It's more survival movie than horror, but that made it even better. Haley and her dad are smart, talented people who make good decisions that are constantly complicated by circumstances they can't control. That kind of tension always works for me and Crawl is a straight-up hour-and-a-half of it.

13. Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase

Super cute.

Seems like every few years there's a new Nancy Drew movie or comic or something that never catches on to become a series. I don't understand why. She's a great character with a cool supporting cast. And this is one of my favorite versions so far. (Another being the recent comic for Dynamite by Kelly Thompson and Jenn St Onge.)

In the new movie, Sophia Lillis is a bright and spirited, but also flawed Nancy who's trying to navigate a lot of things. Her mother recently died, she's moving to a new town (where she's spent some previous summers, so at least she knows some people, but still), and she's being pulled in multiple directions by competing cliques that are interested in either her friendship or detective skills. It's a lot and I loved watching her figure it out.

The rest of the cast is great too, especially Linda Lavin as an eccentric woman who thinks her house may be haunted. Lavin was a staple on my childhood TV thanks to Alice and it's nice to see her again. She was also great in How to Be a Latin Lover a couple of years ago and she may be even funnier now than she was in the '70s.

12. The Rise of Skywalker

Rise of Skywalker bounced all over my list before settling here. And I'm not even sure this is where it should stay.

Right after I first watched it, I probably would have put it in my Top 10, even though I had big issues with the first quarter. The pace in the beginning is way too fast, not necessarily because of the plot, but just for reconnecting emotionally with these characters. And I've never been on board with the Emperor's return or Abrams' taking back Johnson's revelation that Rey's parents were "nobody." These are weaknesses and there are others, but like with the other two movies in the trilogy, I was so pulled into it by the end that the flaws didn't matter on first viewing. I spent the last twenty minutes in happy tears and I loved that last line. (Still do.)

But dang if if the movie didn't lose a lot of appeal the second time around. As much as I was touched by the climax the first time, I could also tell I was being manipulated. Which isn't a problem so long as I'm being manipulated well... and I believed Skywalker was doing that. But on second try, I wasn't so sure. If I'd ranked all my movies then, this would probably have been about 10-15 slots lower. The Nerd Lunch Star Wars panel will be doing a big episode on this, so I'll get into my issues in more detail there.

But for all the stuff that really bugs me, there's still a lot that I love as well. I'll get into that on the podcast, too, but the reason Skywalker ends up this high on my list is that I enjoyed it more the third time than I did the second. There are still big problems. Some of them are basic storytelling problems and some are just events or developments that rub me the wrong way. I expect that, given time, the things that rub me the wrong way will become less important. The storytelling flaws will keep it from being a great film, but I can live with even that.

11. Pokémon Detective Pikachu

Our family dynamic is often that David and I get super excited to see a movie and Diane decides that it looks cool enough to see with us. Detective Pikachu flipped that. David grew up with Pokémon and Diane's a faithful player of Pokémon Go. I like Ryan Reynolds and a good mystery.

If it had been a typical Pokémon story about capturing pocket monsters and making them fight, I'd have skipped it. But Pokémon Detective Pikachu goes broad enough for me while including enough Easter eggs for David and Diane. It's funny, it's cute, it's twisty enough to surprise me in some key places, and it's surprisingly emotional. Justice Smith is great in it and makes me want to watch Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom again because I forgot he's in that.

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