Movies I Loved in 2019 (and not just the ones everyone else is writing about)
By Brian Eichenberger
I labored over a list of my favorite movies of the year earlier this month and when I put the laptop down, sighed, took a sip of coffee and then went back to review and proofread – I realized something.
No one wants to hear my opinion on Parasite, The Irishmen or Marriage Story (three of my picks). Why? Because every professional and amateur film nerd in America has written a few paragraphs about the greatness of those flicks (and a handful of others I loved like Last Black Man in San Francisco, The Farewell and Booksmart) over the past weeks.
So I decided instead to publish my favorites list with all of (what I will call) the “Oscar bait” removed. Here are the movies I loved this year that won’t walk with tons of awards but left me talking, thinking or laughing for days after viewing.
Peanut Butter Falcon – I have always been a Shia Lebouf fan. Despite the personal and professional missteps he has made over the years, there is something about his eagerness that leaves me rooting for him. This movie is a great example of why. It is a small story with just a handful of performances, but it wastes little of it’s 90 minutes, deploying Shia as road-weary and misunderstood and introducing the world to Zack Gottsagen. I won’t describe the plot. I will just say that regardless of the details, it is really just a story about people finding their people. And I love that kind of story.
Ready or Not – There is a lot of chatter about Knives Out among holiday movie goers, but I might prefer this slightly darker comedy/horror from back in August when it comes to “rich family/big house” movies. (Don’t get me wrong – Knives Out is GREAT!) The movie-making collective Radio Silence took a mostly Canadian cast and confined themselves to a one-night, one mansion romp that is equal parts thrilling, hilarious and uncomfortable. Yes – it has a lot of similarities to You’re Next – another on my all-time shortlist for this genre. But between Samara Weaving’s lead performance as a beguiled and horrified new bride and the excellent handle the filmmakers have on inserting comedy, this deserves more eyeballs.
Blinded By the Light – Those who know me, know there was no way I wasn’t going to love a movie based on the true story of a teenager discovering the music of Bruce Springsteen and how it changed his life. What I didn’t anticipate was the larger things this movie has to say about immigration, displacement, depression and friendships. The historical context and cultural sensitivities filmmaker Gurinder Chadha is able to balance make the film weightier and more important in most ways than the other big music-centered romps that tried to capture the Bohemian Rhapsody crowd this year (Rocketman, Yesterday).
Brittany Runs a Marathon – The marketing of this Amazon funded film almost convinced me to skip it as something that either wasn’t for me or something I had just seen too many times before when it starred Rebel Wilson or Melissa McCarthy. It turns out that I had NOT ever seen a movie quite like this. Telling the tale of a young woman in NYC who decides to take up running as a way to get her life together, the movie takes none of the normal exits of a romantic comedy or inspirational drama. Instead, Brittany becomes what felt to me like a realistic exploration of how hard it is to make good decisions sometimes. On top of all of that, Utkarsh Ambudkar’s turn as Jern is maybe my favorite male comic performance of the year.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark – It is important that I mention that while I remember how popular the source material for this movie was during my childhood, I didn’t have much of a relationship with it then. Thus, my affection for this flick is not nostalgic. The stylist who cuts my hair told me during a recent visit that she is a massive fan of the books and hated the movie – so I feel like that needs to be noted. But standing alone as a movie, I found Scary Stories quite entertaining. The filmmakers took the horror anthology and weaved the titular scary stories into a larger narrative set in the 1960s among a set of teenage friends played by mostly new faces. There are creepy-crawly moments but enough of a story to make the whole thing stick together and allow the audience to cheer at the end.
Honorable mentions: Shazam and Little both played with the “young kid/grown up body” conundrum in ways that made me laugh a lot. Sure – we have seen these things before, but we keep doing this schtick because it can be so entertaining; Brightburn – the little film that tackled the big concept of “what if Superman chose to be bad instead of good when he was growing up on the farm” – might have been the most original superhero flick of the year. Captive State is the best alien/post-apocalyptic story no one bothered to see this year (Come for the alien plot, stay for the John Goodman performance.) Instant Family is probably my favorite 2018 movie I watched for the first time in 2019 (and then rewatched).