Best Movies of 2019

These are our best movies of 2019 (with comments below). We each could have listed more but needed to cutoff somewhere. Please give us your feedback.

 Bill IBill C
Best Movies1 Gully Boy
2 Joker
3 Never Look Away
4 Queen and Slim
5 Blinded by the Light
6 Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
7 Motherless Brooklyn
8 The Irishman
9 Uncut Gems
10 Booksmart
11 Badla
12 Yesterday
13 The Farewell
14 Richard Jewell
15 John Wick Chapter 3 - Parabellum
16 Knives Out
17 The Peanut Butter Falcon
18 Dark Waters
19 A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
20 Brittany Runs a Marathon
21 The Good Liar
1 Parasite
2 Jojo Rabbit
3 Booksmart
4 Once Upon a Time In Hollywood
5 Uncut Gems
6 Pain and Glory
7 Good Boys
8 A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
9 One Cut of the Dead
10 Toy Story 4
11 Dark Waters
12 Queen & Slim
13 John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
14 The Irishman
15 Gully Boy
16 The Peanut Butter Falcon
17 Honey Boy
18 Waves
19 Avengers: Endgame
20 The Last Black Man in San Francisco
21 The Farewell
Best Documentaries1 Echo in the Canyon (2018)
2 Western Stars
3 The Apollo
4 They Shall Not Grow Old
5 Amazing Grace
6 Maiden
1 They Shall Not Grow Old
2 For Sama
3 The River and the Wall
4 Apollo 11
5 Amazing Grace
6 Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of my Voice
7 Maiden

Bill I’s Comments:

Gully Boy – Who knew there’s a rapping scene in India? Poor teenager dreams of winning a rapping contest and making it big

Joker –  How does a young man turn into the maniacal joker? This shows how, fantastic from beginning to brutal end

Never Look Away – Epic story, great, based on a real life painter, starting as a young boy in Poland during WWII

Queen and Slim – Combination thriller, love story, social commentary; beautifully filmed, great use of music, and terrific acting

Blinded by the Light – Best use of music in film I can remember, thanks to Springsteen; based on real-life Bruce super fan growing up in a strict Pakstani immigrant family in dead-end middle class English town

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Tarrantino takes his time, Brad Pitt and Decaprio do their thing; based on Manson family but Quentin makes up his own fantasy ending

Motherless Brooklyn – Ed Norton tour de force as a PI in the 50’s NY, trying to track down who killed his long-time mentor (Bruce Willis)

The Irishman – Scorceses directs DeNiro, Pesci, Keitel, Pacino; how could it miss…it doesn’t

Uncut Gems – Adam Sandler as gambling addict jewelry hustler, Kevin Garnett terrific as himself

Booksmart – Terrific girl buddy story, last day of high school the nerds decide to cut loose

Badla- India, legal murder thriller

Yesterday – Beatles songs to a forgetting public

The Farewell – Don’t tell Grandma she’s dying, she’s doing fine

Richard Jewell – Great acting by the lead; Clint Eastwood directing

John Wick Chapter 3 – Parabellum – Non-Stop fun gunning, knifing, swording, karate, kung fun, judo…

Knives Out – whodunit, lots of fun

The Peanut Butter Falcon – Autistic young man buddies up to drifter

Dark Waters – Mark Ruffalo, as lawyer suing DuPont

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood – Tom Hanks does his thing; emotional story, well done

Brittany Runs a Marathon – Inspiring comedy

The Good Liar – Scammer gets scammed

Echo in the Canyon (2018) – Laurel Canyon music scene in the 60s

Western Stars – Bruce performs in a barn, tells his stories

The Apollo – Great documentary, combines history, social commentary, music and commentary from the artists

They Shall Not Grow Old – Actual footage from WWI

Amazing Grace – Aretha live, Stones in the audience

Maiden – All female crew races around the world

Bill C’s Comments:

Parasite – Class warfare told by a master (with subtitles)

Jojo Rabbit – Great Dramedy showing the need to push past stereotypes. While set during WWII this is very relevant today

Booksmart – Olivia Wilde scores in her directorial debut, coming of age comedy 

Once Upon a Time In Hollywood – Another winner from Tarrantino.  Good throughout but really comes alive in final act

Uncut Gems – Intense, gritty film from Safdie Brothers (watch Good Time also).  Sandler is excellent in non-comedy role

Pain and Glory – Another excellent film by Pedro Almodovar. Semi autobiographical as he deals with aging and writer’s block.

Good Boys – Rude and crude comedy – a pre teen Superbad.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood – Mister Rodgers, but an equal focus on the magazine writer telling Mr. Rodgers story and need for forgiveness. Very touching.

One Cut of the Dead – Hilarious Japanese comedy about film crew filming a zombie movie.  The comedy really picks up in the second half.  Find this on Shudder

Toy Story 4 – Another winner from Pixar

Dark Waters – Corporate Lawyer realizes error of his ways as he represents small time farmer against Dupont

Queen & Slim – Bill says it all above

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum – Fun action thriller.  Watch out for the dogs! I’m ready for #4

The Irishman – Great film from Scorsese reunited with some of his favorite actors

Gully Boy – Entertaining movie from India on the Indian hiphop scene

The Peanut Butter Falcon – Down Syndrome young man on the run to realize his dream of being a wrestler

Honey Boy – Who’d have thought there’d be two Shia Lebeouf movies on my list (see Peanut Butter Falcon above)!  He wrote this autobiographical film of his life growing up as an actor (and plays his father).  Noah Jupe is a revelation as the young actor (and he’s also good in Ford vs. Ferarri)

Waves – This movie is tough to watch (especially the 1st half) but is excellent about family going through trauma. I think this is what Scorsese means when he talks about ‘cinema’

Avengers: Endgame – For all those Marvel fans out there

The Last Black Man in San Francisco – Deals with impact of gentrification on minorities in San Francisco

The Farewell – Awkwafina is excellent in touching comedy about generational and cultural issues of Chinese family.

They Shall Not Grow Old – Great WWI doc using actual footage that is visually/audibly enhanced with current technology

For Sama – Impact of war in Syria on young family through family footage.

The River and the Wall – Five friends travel from El Paso to the Gulf of Mexico along Rio Grande on horses, bike, feet, etc.  The movie shows the beauty of the different areas and explores the effects on people and habitats if a wall is built

Apollo 11 – Great movie using archival footage of Apollo 11 mission

Amazing Grace – Never before seen footage of intimate Aretha Franklin gospel concert at the peak of her skills

Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of my Voice – Rondstadt;’s career and personal life is explored.  Currently on CNN

Maiden – First all female crew overcomes challenges as they enter round the world sailing race

Best of SXSW 2019

Below are some of my favorite movies and music from SXSW 2019. Overall it was an excellent year for movies. While there was still a ton of good music, SXSW has definitely gone back to its roots and has deemphasized appearances by really big names.

Comedies/Narrative

Good Boys – If you liked Superbad you’ll probably like this. Instead of kids in high school this is a rude and crude comedy focused on a trio of 6th graders. This is really funny but it will probably offend some. It is produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. This doesn’t open until August.

Long Shot – A romantic comedy starring Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron. He is very Set Rogen-y (clearly I like Seth Rogen).

Booksmart – Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut about 2 graduating high school friends realizing they spent too much time studying and not enough time partying. They try to make up for lost time, partying and havoc ensues and lessons are learned. Funny and touching.

Sword of Trust – Marc Maron in an improvisational comedy. Maybe I partially liked it because I’ve been listening to his podcast for years.

The Art of Self Defense – A very dark comedy starring Jesse Eisenberg. He enrolls in Karate school to learn how to stand up for and defend himself

Villains – A couple of thieves run out of gas and stop by the wrong house looking for a ride. This is a well written comedy/thriller with lots of good plot twists.

Documentaries

The River and The Wall – This movies shows half a dozen people going 1200 miles along the U.S./Mexico border from El Paso to the Gulf of Mexico. Due to varying terrains they at various times ride bikes, horses and canoes. The scenery is amazing and this is a movie worth watching on a big screen in a movie theater. The movie show’s how various animal habitats/environments will be destroyed if a wall is built and that for much of the border a wall is unnecessary as the border at those place is uncrossable

For Sama – An amazing documentary showing life in Aleppo, Syria as the Syrian civil war dragged on. The film covers five years as a woman struggles to live, love and raise a baby in a war torn environment through film that she shot. This is at times very tough to watch.

Running With Beto – A close up and personal look at the Senate campaign by Beto O’Rourke

Knock Down The House – An in depth look at he 2018 campaigns of 4 insurgent democrat women (including Ocasio-Cortez)

Amazing Grace – A concert film of Aretha Franklin recording a 1972 gospel album. Here is link to an article of why this doc took so long to see the light of day: https://www.vulture.com/2018/12/the-story-behind-aretha-franklins-delayed-doc-amazing-grace.html

Best Music (many of which you’ll never have heard of)

  • Sweet Crude
  • Madison Cunningham
  • Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians
  • Small Glories
  • Seratones
  • Steve Earl and the Dukes
  • Boyz II Men (they sang a couple of songs at the Q&A after the movie Long Shot)
  • Gina Chavez
  • Gaelyn Lea
  • Broken Social Scene
  • Quiet Company

Best Movies of 2018

Here’s our picks for the best of 2018.

 Bill IBill C
Best Movies1 Black Panther
2 The Hate U Give
3 A Star is Born
4 BlackkKlansman
5 The Post
6 Upgrade
7 Hearts Beat Loud
8 Searching
9 Creed II
10 Free Solo
11 Green Book
12 Shoplifters
13 Eigth Grade
1 BlackkKlansman
2 Shoplifters
3 Green Book
4 Blinspotting
5 Isle of Dogs
6 Hearts Beat Loud
7 The Hate U Give
8 Black Panther
9 Eighth Grade
10 Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse
11 If Beale Street Could Talk
12 The Insult
13 The Post
14 Incredibles 2
Best Documentaries1 The Dawn Wall
2 RBG
3 Won't you be my Neighbor
4 The Great Buster
5 Free Solo
6 Minding the Gap
7 Three Identical Strangers
8 The Interpreters

Best of SXSW 2018

SXSW ended a couple of weeks ago so some of the movies are already available (I’m slow – sorry).  Others may take more than a year (if ever to see the light of day).  Here are the movies I enjoyed the most.  I thought the lineup, especially the documentaries (as can be seen by the number of docs in my favorite movies) was very strong this year .

The World Before Your Feet

This is an entertaining documentary about a guy who is walking every street in New York City.  He’s been on his quest for a few years, has walked almost 7000 miles already and may just continue walking even when he’s done.  He has an interesting backstory and interactions with the people he meets along the way.

Trans-Military

A timely documentary that follows several transgender service men/women as they help to protect our country.

Ruben Blades is Not My Name

A doucmentary about the acclaimed salsa singer,  actor, Harvard graduate, lawyer, one time candidate for Panamanian president and more.

Chi-Town

In the vein of Hoop Dreams a really good documentary about an inner city Chicago basketball star.  The filmmakers followed him for several years through high school (including all the challenges of living in a poor section of Chicago), college and his quest (still ongoing) to make it in the NBA.

Blindspotting

One of my favorite movies at the festival.  A drama/comedy about two friends (one black/one white) trying to navigate their way through the final days of probation for one in a gentrifying Oakland neighborhood.    The two friends in the movie were at the Q+A and are friends in real life.  They had been working on this film for eight years!

Ready Player One

If you’re into gaming, virtual reality, sci-fi, action movies,   a movie with tons of references to 80s movies/games and/or Stevn Spielberg movies you will enjoy this movie.  I liked it a lot but that may have also been influence by a very enthusiastic 1100+person crowd  with Steven Spielberg and members of the cast participation in the Q&A.

The Director and the Jedi

This is a documentary about the making of the latest Star Wars movie.  A good look at the artistic process of making the movie as well as some of the controversy with Mark Hamill disagreeing with the direction his character took in the movie.  There was a very interesting Q&A that included Mark Hamill and the director, Rian Johnson.  Hamill is a character.

The Last O.G.

The first two episodes of this TBS show.   Tracy Morgan, in his first series work since his accident, plays a character trying to resume his life after 15 years in prison in a gentrified Brooklyn. I found it pretty funny (as was the Q&A with Morgan and Tiffany Haddish).  Jordan Peele is one of the creators.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor

A moving documentary about the life and career of PBS  children show icon Fred Rogers.  I don’t know how anyone can be so nice.

Science Fair

I love documentaries about competitions.  Spellbound, about the national spelling bee is one of the best.   Science Fair is in the same vein – several high school students from around the world are followed as they try to qualify, prepare and then compete in a major competition.   The first 90 seconds or so of this youtube clip starts the movie showing the winner of an earlier competition.

The Dawn Wall

A gorgeous to look at documentary of the first successful scaling of the Dawn Wall of El Capitan.  The climb got a lot of TV coverage when the climb was made in 2015.  This was a ‘free ascent’ meaning this type of climbing is done just using their hands and feet (with picks and rope just used to prevent falling to their death).  The climb took 19 days and they would sleep in tents hanging off the side of the wall at night!  As amazing as the climb was the back story was just as fascinating.  Definitely try to see this movie!

Hearts Beat Loud

A sweet little film about the bonding of a father and daughter before she heads off to college.  It stars Nick Offerman

Ali & Cavett: The Tale of the Tapes

Muhammed Ali appeared on the Dick Cavett show numerous times.  This is an insightful documentary about Ali through some of his good and bad times as well as the relationship between Caveat and Ali.

First Match

A gritty movie about an inner city girl who becomes the only girl on her high school wrestling team only to be led astray by her ex-con father.

Isle of Dogs

While this was the closing night film I must confess I  saw it after.  I am a big fan of Wes Anderson and I really enjoyed this film.  It was made using stop motion animation (like Fantastic Mr. Fox).  The  movie is set in Japan 20 years in the future and  tells the story of a boy searching for his dog.  An incredible cast provides the voices (in both Japanese and English).  It’s not his funniest movie but I liked the story and it’s a joy to look at.  If you can see it at an Alamo Drafthouse do so and get there early to see the pre-show which provides lots of insight into Anderson’s style and elements of the movie.

Best Movies/TV of 2017

Here’s our picks for the best of 2017.

 Bill IBill C
Best Movies1 Get Out
2 Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri
3 Darkest Hour
4 Lady Bird
5 Dunkirk
6 Molly's Game
7 John Wick, Chapter 2
8 The Big Sick
9 Atomic Blonde
10 Wind River
11 All the Money in the World
12 Logan
13 Wonder Woman
14 Logan Lucky
15 Girls Trip
16 The Disaster Artist
1 The Big Sick
2 Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
3 Lady Bird
4 I, Tonya
5 Wind River
6 The Florida Project
7 The Shape of Water
8 The Disaster Artist
9 Dunkirk
10 Molly's Game
11 Get Out
12 Darkest Hour
13 Wonder Woman
14 The Founder
15 Meerkat Maantuig
16 Baby Driver
Best TV1 Better Call Saul
2 The Americans
3 Curb Your Enthusiasm
4 Homeland
5 Master of None
6 Better Things
7 Insecure
8 The Deuce
9 SMILF
10 Westworld
11 Blackish
12 Modern Family
13 Lopez
1 Better Call Saul
2 The Americans
3 Curb Your Enthusiasm
4 The Deuce
5 GLOW
6 Westworld
7 Sneaky Pete
8 The Crown
9 Love
10 Saturday Night Live
11 Crashing
Worst Movies1 Brad's Status
2 Call Me By Your Name
1 Song to Song
2 The Challenge
Best Documentaries1 I Am Not Your Negro
2 The Vietnam War
1 Gilbert
2 May it Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers
3 Mission Control: The Unsung Heros of Apollo
4 Meth Storm: Arkansas USA
5 Shot In the Dark
6 What Haunts Us

——

Fantastic Fest 2017

This is the fourth year I’ve attended Fantastic Fest.  It’s the largest ‘genre’ film fest in the U.S. and is held at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar Location in Austin.  This has become my favorite fest.  It has some great movies from all over the world including many you are not likely to see anywhere else.  It all takes place at a single location and has some great related activities going on at The Highball which is adjacent to the theaters.  Here is a link to the schedule (which includes the Highball activities).  Here are some of my favorite (or most interesting ) movies from this year:

Salyut-7: Based on the true story of the cosmonaut rescue of a damaged Russian space station, this is the Russian Apollo 13.  This a little (ok – a lot) over the top but well made and entertaining.  I think Putin gave the order that this had to top Apollo 13, so while Apollo 13 had concerned family members with children this had a concerned pregnant wife about to go into labor, etc.  I expected the controller on the ground to say ‘Failure is not an option’ but he never did.  Despite my reservations I liked it.

Dan Dream: An entertaining Danish comedy by the team that made Klown.  This is based on a true story of the attempt by a Danish team to make the first electric car in the 1980s.  If you’re a fan of Klown don’t expect the raunchiness of those movies.

Letterkenny: This is now my favorite Canadian TV show.  It’s about a group of hicks in the small town of Letterkenny.  3 episodes were aired from both the 1st and 2nd season.  A third season is coming. This could offend some and is not for everyone but is very funny!

Bad Genius: An excellent movie from Thailand about high school students cheating on standardized tests.  Part comedy, part morality play, drama with tons of tension as well.  One of my favorites.

78/52:  A documentary that focuses on the iconic shower scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho.  This goes into Hitchcock’s career and how his career led to that film and that scene, the making of the scene,  how groundbreaking it was and how it has impacted films since.  Very interesting.

Blade of the Immortal: For those into Japanese Samurai films this is for you.  A Samurai warrior that cannot die is on a mission to protect a young girl seeking revenge for the murder off her family.  Good action although a little thick with the morality lessons.

Gilbert: An excellent documentary about comedian Gilbert Gottfried.      In his personal life he’s a lot different than his persona so you’re likely to be surprised.  This also explores his controversial comedy style including controversies after 9/11 and when he was fired from his roles as the AFLAC duck due to his tasteless humor after the Tsunami a few years ago.  He was there for a Q&A and he did a taping of Leonard Maltin’s podcast while at the fest. Some will be offended by his humor.

Anna and the Apocalypse: Those who have been waiting for a Zombie musical have had their prayers answered!  This move from Scotland was very entertaining.

Professor Marsden and the Wonder Women: This drama is based on the true story of the creator of Wonder Women and the two women in his life that inspired him.  This is a well made movie and a very interesting story.

Mary and the Witch’s Flower:  A well made anime from Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who had previously worked at anime powerhouse Studio Ghibli.

 

The Big Sick

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

This was my favorite movie at SXSW in March and is my favorite movie of the year so far.  This opens in N.Y. and L.A. this weekend and more widely in the coming weeks,  Below is an excerpt from what  I wrote back in March.  Definitely go see this!

A romantic comedy based on the real life romance of Emily V. Gordon and  Kumail Nanjiani as they deal with family issues (including those of being a Muslim in America) and her illness.  This is very funny and moving.  Nanjiani also stars and this has a good supporting cast including Ray Romano and Holly Hunter.  Judd Apatow was one of the producers and he, Emily and Kumail had a great Q+A including a discussion of how Apatow helps push people to maximize their creativity in the writing process (as he did with Amy Schumer in Trainwreck and Lena Dunham with Girls). 

IMDB

Rotten Tomatoes

Blame

Bill I’s Rating – 4 out of 5

I love a good teenager movie, especially when the characters break out of the stereotype clichés. Blame was written, produced, directed, and acted in by Quinn Shephard, a 22 year old New Jersey native, who conceived it while in high school, and subsequently filmed it in that same high school (Metuchen, by the way). This film is so well filmed, edited, scored and produced with certainly no indication of what I assume is a low budget. Quinn plays Abigail, an emotionally scarred senior who is a target of the cool, nasty clique, led by mean girl Melissa (excellent Nadia Alexander). The girls are quickly enamored by hunky substitute drama teacher (“call me Jeremy”, played perfectly by Chris Messina) and the complications ensue. No spoilers here, but I can say that Abigail finds a way to push through the incessant bullying and get her groove back, so to say, sparked by Jeremy’s “mentoring”. As usual in these movies, there’s no parents in sight, at least admirable parents, but the kids manage to grow up a little nevertheless. Not a fun ending, but appropriate and very well done.

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Band Aid

Bill I’s Rating – 4 out of 5

Another reviewer called this a “low-key charmer”, which is my opinion as well. Anna (the captivating Zoe Lister-Jones, who also wrote and directed) and Ben (Adam Pally) are married, in a rut sex-wise and a depressing routine of arguing over every little thing. They discover that only by putting their beefs in songs (is this how rap started, DJ Kook Herc and Afrika Bombatta?) can they find joy and energize their marriage. They need a drummer, and weird neighbor (perfect Fred Armison) fits the bill. The songs that result are good, and thank god this is not a traditional musical. Very funny in parts, raw and emotional in the middle, with a (mild spoiler alert) nice, happy ending, this is the perfect movie to bring your life partner/arguer. By the way, seeing Susie Essman as Ben’s insightful, slightly over bearing Jewish mother, was fun and great to see that she is much more wide ranging than being typecast as Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm foul mouthed nemesis.

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Take Me

Bill I’s Rating – 3 out of 5

I’ve seen funnier films about kidnapping, the one I can think of is Ruthless People where Bette Midler played an unforgettable, and unpleasant, kidnap victim who ends up being much more painful for the hapless kidnapper than for her thrilled husband. Take Me is an offshoot on that premise, focused on Ray (played well by director Pat Healy), a down at the heals entrepreneur who runs a 1 man kidnap for hire business, where people can experience the thrill of being kidnapped to help them achieve either self actualization or to kick an overeating problem (don’t ask). Ray has more than he can handle with Anna (terrific Taylor Schilling, but no Bette Midler). The fun becomes desperation, routine assignment becomes borderline criminal, and the audience has to guess what’s real. Cool ending, but I wasn’t laughing too much during most of the film.

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