We are 18 days past the halfway point of 2019, and it is challenging for me to conjure up anything good movie-wise, especially in the theatres. I realize the best is yet to come – a worthy summer blockbuster or two, an upswing of independent gems in October, and then the Oscar plunge of November and December – but, as of now, my Top Five of 2019 is pretty measly. I also realize that several nationally acclaimed movies have not yet hit my hometown of Denver, so the jury’s still out on The Souvenir, Ash Is the Purest White, and The Last Black Man in San Francisco.
In the meantime, I thought I would list my current Top Five of 2019, knowing fully well that it will change in another 6 months. (Once upon a Time in Hollywood comes out late July, and being that it is a Quentin Tarantino film, I am certain it will end up on my final list, and the two fellas above concur.)
As most movie geek bloggers know, rating systems and preferences could not be any more biased, inconsistent, and subjective (please see my How I Rate the Movies blog). Personally, I like to include a variety of genres on my list because I think horror and documentaries unfairly get the shaft.
So, without further ado…
5. Dumbo ***1/2 out of *****
I am just fine being alone on this one. In fact, it was a wonderful experience to be pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this critically demolished movie about an elephant that flies. Tim Burton’s “remade remake” not only transforms the imagination of the animated original into a live action medium, it cherishes the heart and empathy behind the original as well. All the 1941 racist innuendos are left out, some of the beautiful original songs are rightfully left in (the “Baby Mine” scene still pulls my heartstrings), and the character of Dumbo is given life by some of the best computer generated imagery I have ever seen on screen (eat your heart out, Avengers!).
Even Mr. Burton doesn’t get in his own way as he does in most of his films and simply lets his mute but wise flying elephant do the talking.
Despite some flaws (Michael Keaton’s ever changing accent, Danny Elfman’s shamelessly ripped-off Edward Scissorhands motif, and Colin Farrell’s apparent sleepwalking problem), Eva Green is mesmerizing, Danny DeVito marvels in his wheelhouse role as ringmaster, and most importantly, Dumbo and his movie score tearjerker points.
4. Rocketman ***1/2 out of *****
Actor Taron Egerton embodies everything Elton John, including his quintessential singing voice. He is visually and audibly stunning, and the movie properly dives into rated-R territory when it portrays the sex, booze, drugs, and hardships of Elton’s rock ‘n rolling life.
Like a musical, the song and dance numbers narrate as much as entertain, filling Rocketman with the energy and grandiosity of the very man it depicts. I just wish it wallowed less in self-pity and celebrated more a survivor of addiction. Unfortunately, most of Elton’s personal, non-musical achievements are not fully embraced until the credits start to roll.
3. Pet Sematary ***1/2 out of *****
This is the stuff of true horror. Most of the reason behind the movie’s success is the story, which, of course, comes from the horror master, Stephen King, circa 1982. You’re not supposed to mess with pets that die, children that die, and even death itself, but King dug all of that up, and I still believe his original novel is the scariest thing I’ve read all my life.
So, it’s hard to muck up what is already pretty scary (we will forget about the 1989 rendition and its scary acting).
This interpretation – brought by two directors – is raw, unforgiving, and the darkest I’ve seen in a mainstream demographic. Even with some alterations to the original plot line, the movie nails the grim atmosphere, myth, and complications of human disobedience found in King’s original vision.
Viewers walked out of the theatre in gravely silent chills. That’s what a horror film is supposed to do. No offense, Jordan Peele, but your latest movie left “Us” frustrated and laughing. I realize it’s cool to be different, but it’s even cooler to be scary.
2. Fyre: The Greatest Party that Never Happened (Netflix) ***1/2 out of *****
This is what happens when two alcohol-fueled, testosterone-prone, egotistical millennials decide to spend millions on a pipe dream of models, beach, and music without a plan other than to look cool at the end. It is a wretched side of humanity, metaphorically Instagramming what is “supposedly a fun thing to do” (a warning from the late David Foster Wallace). Essentially, the two idiots behind this Bahamas music festival (Billy McFarland and Ja Rule) wanted to have the entrepreneur-of-the-decade image but ended up with soaking wet mattresses, cheese sandwiches, and a lawsuit. Like The Armstrong Lie (2013), this is a fascinating study on hubris and its relationship with money.
After the movie’s release, this relationship intensified a controversy on how much interviewees should be paid to tell their story. It has been confirmed that Hulu’s production of the Fyre Festival accounts (aptly named Fyre Fraud) actually did pay Billy McFarland quite a lot to disclose information after the story already gained fame worldwide because of the Netflix version. Regardless of the debate on ethical documentary protocol, the story, the movie, and the hubris are good entertainment in the comfort of your humble home.
1. Paddleton (Netflix) **** out of *****
There’s a certain mystique to watching a little known independent film. True, you may be the only one at work having seen it, but when mainstream summer movies bring drivel like Dark Phoenix and Men in Black: International, you’ll be the smartest one around the water cooler.
I. Love. The Duplass Brothers.
They know how to make a warm, endearing brotherly and/or buddy flick that will make you cry as much as laugh. Mark Duplass and Ray Romano are perfectly cast as likable oddballs who encounter cancer as gracefully as they play racquetball, and that is both a bad thing and a good thing. The Duplass Brothers directorial team (Mark and Jay) know how to squeeze sentiment out of their actors with a simple screenplay and a digital handycam. True, the ending will hit a few political buttons, but if you follow the Duplass method, you will know it is more about humanity, forgiveness, and, most importantly – empathy. This is one of those 90-minute sleepers that reminds us that a movie does not need a big budget, an array of special effects, or big name stars to be remarkable.
I know I’ve left out so many of your 2019 favorites thus far. Please feel free to share them, and thank you for reading!