Updated: Jan 5, 2020
Now that the dust from the holiday season has settled, I’d like to give the old year a proper sendoff. Rather than compiling a generic “Top 10 Films” list, however, I’m going to narrow my focus. Keeping in mind that this rundown is far from comprehensive, here are a handful of movie moments that stuck with me in 2019.
[SPOILER WARNING: The following list discusses major plot points from Rocketman, Avengers: Endgame, The Irishman, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and Knives Out in great detail; PLEASE PROCEED WITH CAUTION!]
Rocketman: I’d hardly consider “I Want Love” to be an “essential” Elton John song… but in the hands of director Dexter Fletcher and his collaborators, it becomes the best number in a jukebox musical fantasy packed full of great ones. In the context of the narrative, the lyrics paint a heartbreaking portrait of an irreparably shattered family, with both the young protagonist and his neglectful parents seeking affection and validation in all the wrong places—thus elegantly setting the stage for the decades-spanning tragedy to follow.
Avengers: Endgame – While the death of Tony Stark—the character that laid the foundation for Marvel’s shared cinematic universe—definitely packs a huge emotional punch, the buildup to his selfless sacrifice resonated just a bit more for me. Disoriented from the fight against Thanos’ forces, Iron Man gazes across the battlefield… and sees that the Mad Titan has managed to seize the Infinity Gauntlet. Realizing that he’s the only Avenger close enough to intervene, Stark glances at the preoccupied Doctor Strange for confirmation that he can salvage the situation. The Sorcerer Supreme simply raises his index finger, grimly signaling that this is, indeed, the one scenario out of 14 million in which he foresaw a chance at victory. Stark is painfully aware that foiling the galactic conqueror’s genocidal ambitions will cost him his own life—as well as a happy future with his wife and child—and he springs into action anyway. His unwavering resolve proves that “I am Iron Man” is no hollow boast.
The Irishman: It’s almost impossible to choose a single memorable scene from Martin Scorsese latest organized crime epic; ultimately, I decided to go with the one that best represents its deliciously contradictory atmosphere. As Robert De Niro’s Frank Sheeran rides towards his fateful final meeting with Al Pacino’s Jimmy Hoffa, his two accomplices have a humorously banal argument about how damp and smelly the backseat is; the driver sheepishly explains that he delivered some fish shortly before picking them up, prompting Hoffa to offer advice on how to properly transport seafood. Beneath the surface-level comedy, however, lies a powerful undercurrent of suspense, because Sheeran knows that once they reach their destination, he will have to betray and murder his closest friend. It’s a study in conflicting tones that’s every bit as effective as anything that Quentin Tarantino has ever written.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: Speaking of Tarantino, his latest effort—an unabashed celebration of Old Hollywood—is similarly packed with iconic moments, but I’m going to stand by the assertion that I made in my initial review: the scene in which Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth prepares dinner for himself and his pit bull is an absolutely ingenious bit of character work. As he navigates his cramped trailer, the world-weary stuntman finds his refrigerator nearly empty; he ends up eating stovetop macaroni and cheese straight out of the pot. His cupboards, on the other hand, are literally overflowing with cans of gourmet dog food. This cleverly and succinctly establishes his loyal, nurturing personality: Cliff always takes care of his friends and family, often at the expense of his own wellbeing. In many ways, it also symbolically epitomizes his relationship with Leonardo DiCaprio’s Rick Booth, foreshadowing the film’s history-revising conclusion.
Knives Out: Although critics have rightfully praised Ana de Armas’ starring turn in Rian Johnson’s subversive spin on the whodunit genre, Daniel Craig’s nuanced performance as private investigator Benoit Blanc is the glue that holds the deliberately convoluted plot together. To quote my original review: “[Blanc’s] bizarre philosophical musings straddle the line between brilliance and buffoonery, making it difficult to discern whether our intrepid ‘hero’ is merely obfuscating ignorance in order to lull his prey into a false sense of security… or genuinely is as utterly clueless as he acts.” While his spectacular Poirot Summation (which very closely resembles the climax of an Ace Attorney game) is undeniably impressive, the detective’s most memorable moment actually occurs during the denouement, when he casually reveals that he’d immediately noticed an incriminating drop of blood on our protagonist’s shoe during their first encounter; he only ignored the obvious evidence because he recognized that there was a deeper mystery afoot. It’s the perfect resolution to his character arc, allaying any lingering doubts that the viewer might have had regarding his credentials as a super sleuth.
[WARNING: EVEN MORE SPOILERS BELOW!]
The Lighthouse: Willem Dafoe calls upon Poseidon to drag Robert Pattinson’s soul to the unfathomable depths of Davy Jones’ Locker for the unforgivable sin of… insulting his cooking.
Doctor Sleep: The suspenseful psychic showdown between Dan Torrance (remotely possessing Abra Stone) and the villainous Crow Daddy—a slow, quiet, and deliciously tense scene in an otherwise relentlessly-paced film.
Pokemon Detective Pikachu: Tim Goodman enters his estranged father’s apartment to find an “old detective movie” playing on the television. The film in question? Angels with Filthy Souls, which was originally shot specifically to be featured in Home Alone. Hilarious inside joke for devotees of ‘90s pop culture.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – The welcome return of Wedge Antilles following a 36-year absence from the franchise; I only applauded once during the Skywalker Saga’s grand finale—when good old Red 2 appeared for a glorious five-second cameo.
Frozen 2: How can I choose anything other than “Into the Unknown”, a beautifully nuanced song that begins as a deliberately dissonant musical duel revolving around the twin themes of denial and repression before gradually transitioning into a harmonious duet celebrating the spirit of adventure?
Spider-Man: Far From Home – To the surprise and delight of fans of Sam Raimi’s Spidey trilogy, J.K. Simmons reprises his role as J. Jonah Jameson during the post-credits sequence—and quickly exposes our hapless hero’s secret identity to the entire world! ‘Nuff said!
Godzilla: King of the Monsters – Serizawa’s sacrifice. In Ishiro Honda’s original Gojira, the character’s namesake takes a one-way trip to the bottom of the ocean in order to kill the monster by manually detonating the deadly Oxygen Destroyer; here, he endures a lethal dose of radiation in the process of saving The Big G’s life. This unexpected reversal of the classic formula is a genuine treat for hardcore kaiju aficionados.
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum: In the aftermath of yet another ridiculously elaborate chase scene, John Wick arrives at the Continental Hotel for a fateful meeting with Winston. Zero, the brutal enforcer that has been hunting him on behalf of the enigmatic High Table, takes a seat beside him. Despite previously being depicted as a consummate professional, the assassin immediately begins gushing about how much he admires John’s work, almost literally drooling at the thought that he might soon have the opportunity to fight such a legendary figure. It’s a welcome touch of humor that helps to alleviate the otherwise oppressively bleak atmosphere.
Joker: Following his descent into madness, Arthur Fleck finally murders the obnoxious fellow employee that cost him his job. Gary, another former coworker, cowers in the corner until the newly-christened Joker gives him explicit permission to leave. Unfortunately, Gary’s diminutive stature prevents him from reaching the doorknob, forcing him to sheepishly ask the blood-spattered killer for assistance. After a tense moment, Arthur… obliges him without argument, giving the dwarf an affectionate kiss on the head and sincerely thanking him for his kindness over the years. It’s a brilliant bit of dark comedy that perfectly captures the character’s contradictory nature.
Us: The central plot twist of Jordan Peele’s sophomore effort—that the version of Lupita Nyong’o we’ve been following has actually belonged to the race of murderous doppelgängers all along, having replaced her counterpart as a child—barely qualifies as a shock. The real emotional punch comes immediately after the revelation, when she notices that her son is glaring at her, realizes that he’s worked out her true identity… and shoots him a haunting smirk, knowing that there’s absolutely nothing he can do with the information.