TC Candler

The best Films of 2019

1. I Lost My Body (FRA)

I can count on one hand (pun intended) the number of animated films that have made my Top 10’s over the past fifty years.  Generally, for me, they have a ‘quality ceiling’ that doesn’t allow them above a 9/10.  This animated French masterpiece just destroyed my concept of what a ‘cartoon’ can achieve… both artistically and emotionally.  It is a gorgeously bizarre story of a severed hand finding its way back to its owner.  It parallels that oddity with an intelligent touch of young love and wistful flashbacks of childhood memories.  The haunting score adds to the cinematic perfection.

9.9 / 10

2. Parasite (KOR)

Bong Joon-ho is one of the great directors alive today.  His splendid films include “Memories of Murder”, “Mother” & “The Host”.  He adds to that repertoire with the Cannes Film Festival Palme D’Or winner, “Parasite”.  This subversive and cynical ‘tragicomedy’ will end up as one of the best films of 2019.  It is wickedly funny, and acutely vicious — balancing the vastly different tones perfectly.  It is a mesmerizing commentary on the massive financial gulf between the classes.  The entire cast is superb… with special commendation for the great Song Kang-ho — one of the world’s finest actors.

9.8 / 10

3. Better Days (CHN)

Actress, Zhou Dongyu gave the best performance of 2018 in the best film of 2018… “Us and Them”.  She almost repeats that feat in 2019 with “Better Days”.  This is a heartbreaking story of a high-school girl whose parents are non-existent and whose classmates bully her relentlessly.  As she approaches the most important exams of her young life, she meets a street-criminal boy who vows to protect her from the bullies.  The young couple become poignant soul-mates who try to fend off a world that doesn’t want them to be together.

9.7 / 10

4. Joker

Joaquin Phoenix is devastatingly good in this intense and intimate portrait of the notorious villain.  Hand him an automatic Oscar nomination right now!  Todd Phillips directs this emotional gut-punch of cinema with the perfect blend of cynicism, compassion, empathy and disdain.  Of what?  For who?  Well, that is for the individual viewer to decide.  No other film in the absurdly overpopulated “superhero” universe has ever even approached this level of depth and consequence.  “Joker” shows what real cinema can achieve.  I cared about this dark character.  In many instances, I empathized… I agreed… I cheered for him.  This film is complex and spectacular. 

9.6 / 10

5. The King

Tonight, I sat down, in my comfy chair, to watch a Netflix original film that I had virtually no intention of finishing.  It was a cinematic fishing expedition.  Two and a half incredibly brief hours later, I was in awe of the brilliance I had just seen.  It was the completely absorbing tale of King Henry V and his reign in the early part of the 15th century.  The mastery of this film lies in its utter simplicity and efficiency of direction.  There isn’t a wasted shot or line of dialogue.  It is remarkably patient and thoughtful.  There are half a dozen excellent performances.  The art and photography are both immaculate.  It is a masterclass of film-making.

9.5 / 10

6. Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood

Quentin Tarantino’s latest film meanders between a languid, wistful homage to late 1960’s Americana and a bitter, somewhat angry rant about what this country has become — “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” is a gorgeous fairy tale plucked right out of the director’s 6-year-old memories.  From the myriad conversations, to the pinpoint accurate reconstruction of Hollywood Blvd., to the historical u-turn in the final act… everything about this film is cinematic gold-dust.  Every actor in the film is superb — with special exquisite notes to Brad Pitt, Margaret Qualley and Julia Butters.  A film lovers’ film.

9.4 / 10

7. Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel are achingly beautiful and emotionally devastating in this gorgeous love story between a painter and her subject.  The film simmers on its way to a rolling boil as these two women fall in love on a remote island off the coast of Brittany.  The inevitable farewell creeps towards them as the portrait is completed.  It is a visual delight with two powerhouse performances. 

9.2 / 10

8. Serenity

Once or twice a year, I find myself completely opposed to the critical consensus.  Despite middling reviews, I thought “Serenity” was a terrifically entertaining film-noir mystery.  It is both suspenseful and original… and cracked off the most unexpected twist I’ve seen in two decades.  Matthew McConnaughey and Anne Hathaway both deliver solid performances.  I had a lot of fun with this one.

9.2 / 10

9. Knives Out

This is the film that Agatha Christie fans were hoping for with the “Orient Express” remake last year.  The entire cast is excellent.  The plot is original.  The actual mystery is not the mystery we think we are expecting.  The wrap-up is satisfactory.  The motivations are believable.  I enjoyed every minute of this film.  Ana De Armas and Daniel Craig are both superb.  If there is one quibble, it is that the bulk of the characters are introduced to little end.  I could have used more variety in terms of possible suspects.

9.0 / 10

The GOOD

(Good Films Released This Year)

Uncut Gems

8.8 / 10

Adam Sandler plays a lowlife jewelry grifter who is running various scams in order to fund his next sports bet.  The film is bursting with energy and chaos, making it one of the more entertaining films of the year.  Unfortunately, the company you have to keep, while watching these creeps, makes it one of the least palatable too.  “Uncut Gems” feels like a great ‘one-time-watch’.  I don’t think I want to revisit this world ever again.  Sandler gives his best performance here.

Triple Frontier

8.8 / 10

Despite a dull, non-sequitur title, morally bankrupt characters, and a dreadful final 5-minutes, “Triple Frontier” manages to be a really exciting action flick with a big name cast.  The direction is sure-handed.  The pace is relentlessly high.  The action is believable and easy to follow.  Almost an awesome ‘guy flick’.

1917

8.8 / 10

This was a technically amazing film that needed a little more heart in order to achieve greatness.  Everything about “1917” is a cinematic marvel to experience.  It will blow you away — almost literally, in some scenes.  However, the “one-shot” technique seems really unnecessary — especially for a film whose plot spans at least 12 hours!?  I think it would have been a masterpiece if it had placed character development over film-making mastery.

The Informer

8.7 / 10

Joel Kinnaman stars as an FBI informant who is blackmailed into returning to prison for a sting operation.  The plot may feel like a 1980’s Van Damme flick, but it zips along nicely and always holds on to the believability.  This genre pic is really exciting and has nice performances by Kinnaman and Ana De Armas.

The Mad Whale

It is a shame it didn’t get a bigger audience, because this experimental film, which had nine directors and eight writers, is a real triumph.  Set in a late-1800’s asylum, the female patients are tasked with putting on a production of “Moby Dick” as a means of therapy.  Camilla Belle delivers one of the best performances of the year as Isabel, an unjustly committed inmate cast in the lead role of Ishmael.  James Franco also performs nicely in a very small role.  This is a perfect example of a hidden gem.

 

8.7 / 10

Arctic

8.6 / 10

Mads Mikkelsen is astonishing as a lone survivor of an arctic plane crash.  Think Robert Redford in “All is Lost” meets Liam Neeson in “The Grey”.

Midsommar

8.4 / 10

Ari Aster’s “Hereditary” was creepy, but made a couple of hideously poor decisions that derailed the entire film.  There are no such errors with his follow-up film, “Midsommar”.  The lead performance by Florence Pugh is amazing.  The ending is perhaps a little to obscure and abstract… but it gets the job done.

Marriage Story

8.2 / 10

Exquisitely acted by both Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, this Noah Baumbach film feels painfully authentic and acutely observant.  If there is any complaint, it is the totality of the film’s purpose.  Is there a lesson to be learned?  If there is, it felt slight.  Perhaps there are a myriad small lessons?

Hotel Mumbai

8.1 / 10

A terrifying look inside the 2008 terrorist attacks in and around Mumbai’s most famous hotel.  The cast and the film does justice to the horrific incident.

Anna

7.9 / 10

Luc Besson returns to form with a stylish female assassin thriller.  Think “Salt” meets “La Femme Nikita” / “Point of No Return”.  Sasha Luss is superb!

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

7.9 / 10

The first 30-mins are filled with top notch excitement and incredibly cool kills.  The rest, although generally entertaining, starts to become a tad repetitive.

The Irishman

7.7 / 10

For a film with all this firepower, I expected a little more oomph.  The performances are all stellar, but the story feels tired.  We have seen every moment in various other films and documentaries over the years.  Scorsese’s direction is uninspired here…  It feels distinctly un-cinematic.  Good, but underwhelming.

Alita: Battle Angel

7.5 / 10

This is not the type of film I would usually recommend.  However, “Alita” is really fast paced… and packs enough visual punch to thoroughly entertain.

Queen & Slim

7.3 / 10

A young black couple get stopped by an aggressive cop and tragedy ensues.  The early stages of this “on-the-run” thriller work well, but it soon flattens out.

Stockholm

7.2 / 10

With his umpteenth consecutive great performance, Ethan Hawke elevates this true-life 1970’s Swedish bank heist flick.  There are some truly absurd twists and turns.  The film’s pace never wanes.  If there is any mild complaint, it’s that the movie limps across the finish line with an abrupt and ho-hum ending.

A Rainy Day in New York

7.0 / 10

Woody Allen films are like Jazz with dialogue.  You watch to hear the familiar refrains.  The classic rhythms instantly connect us to his back catalogue of masterpieces.  Perhaps they are anachronistic to our time… but for that, I thank the heavens.  “Rainy Day” hits all the notes — and they made me smile.

The Aftermath

7.0 / 10

An infidelity in “The Aftermath” of WWII… This film is perhaps a little stoic and its ending a bit abbreviated.  Nevertheless — well acted and solidly made.

The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil (KOR)

7.0 / 10

A standard Korean cop thriller with Don Lee (Ma Dong-Seok) being as bad-ass as usual.  What it lacks in originality, it makes up for in style.

American Factory

7.0 / 10

The Oscar winning Best Documentary of 2019 is a tale of communist China fighting for unfettered capitalism and American workers fighting for socialism.

Atlantics

7.0 / 10

A low-key, hypnotic, love story set in the capital city of Senegal… “Atlantics” features a handful of quality performances and a vivid sense of place and time.

Earthquake Bird (JPN)

6.7 / 10

Alicia Vikander stars as a Swedish woman, living in Tokyo, being questioned by police about the murder of her friend. It is a very understated film about jealousy and guilt.  The plot and tone requires patience.  It is the definition of a slow-boil thriller.  Vikander’s performance holds it all together nicely.

Glass

6.3 / 10

The third installment in M. Night Shyamalan’s superhero origins trilogy does just enough to satisfy.  James McAvoy is brilliant as his 27 characters.

Tune in for Love (KOR)

6.2 / 10

A warm Korean romance with a lovely performance from Kim Go-eun.  Perhaps its only weakness is a tendancy to manipulate the plot to fit the formula.

Leaving Neverland

6.1 / 10

The documentary is routinely made… However, the case made against MJ becomes even more concrete than it was before.  Both of the accusers go into devastating detail… so particular that it seems impossible to have made-up.  There is only one verdict that’ll be remembered in the history books… Guilty!

The Farewell (CHN)

6.0 / 10

A pleasant film about a young woman returning to China to say goodbye to her dying grandmother.  It drags a little, but is acted well by the entire cast.

The Platform (SPA)

6.0 / 10

A vertical prison where the food travels from top to bottom, leaving the scraps for the ones below.  How many levels are there?  A metaphor for capitalism.

Midway

6.0 / 10

What this film lacks in detail, nuance and great writing… It makes up for in spectacle, excitement and a fast pace.  A meat and potatoes action flick.

A Hidden Life

6.0 / 10

Recent Terrence Malick movies have been breathtakingly gorgeous, but too ethereal and meditative to fully grasp.  This film tempers that a bit… barely.

Official Secrets

6.0 / 10

This is a perfunctory examination of a whistleblower to the illegal gulf war.  It is an interesting true story — but the film feels like reading a Wikipedia article. 

Ad Astra

6.0 / 10

Terrence Malick in space… This Brad Pitt sci-fi is too obscure with its pontificating and wistful philosophical musings about the nature of life and the meaning of existence.  The main character’s emptiness transfers to the substance of the film — resulting in a story with big ideas, offering no solutions.

The Average

(Forgettable Films in the Middle of the Pack)

Us

5.9 / 10

Jordan Peele’s follow up to “Get Out” falls short of expectations.  The film is very well acted, especially by Lupita Nyong’o.  The visuals are slick and far more artistic than your average horror movie.  However, the symbology of “Us” is either too in-your-face or too obscure — never quite hitting the sweet spot.  Peele is a supreme talent, and I look forward to more.  Unfortunately, this time it feels more style than substance… just missing out on a recommendation.

Always Be My Maybe

5.8 / 10

Despite some forced rom-com plot staples and the total lack of originality, the characters are just charming enough to make it a lukewarm success.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette

5.7 / 10

I usually love Richard Linklater films, but this one feels a little empty — relying on a hard-working Cate Blanchett to carry a minimally interesting story.

Yesterday

5.7 / 10

A great premise is significantly let down by an abbreviated script and some poor performances.  It all feels very slight indeed.

Little Women

5.6 / 10

Director, Greta Gerwig doesn’t really do enough with the rich material to generate real emotion.  Everything about the film is nice… merely nice.

Long Shot

5.4 / 10

Nothing about this rom-com is even remotely romantic enough or funny enough to overcome the absurdly hard to believe premise.  Distinctly average.

A Sun (TAI)

5.4 / 10

This Taiwanese film, about the strife one family has to endure when a young man heads to jail just as he is about to become a father, never quite comes to a boil.  The performances are all very solid… but the urgency in the script wanes too often.  The film drags in long parts.

The Lighthouse

5.3 / 10

An interesting failure.  Shot in stark 4:3 black and white, this story, of two lighthouse “wickies” going batshit crazy, is too absurd for its own good.

Diego Maradona

5.3 / 10

The subject is fascinating…  The execution is seemingly directionless.  Maradona was/is walking melodrama.  This documentary is Messi and Dull.

IO

5.2 / 10

Margaret Qualley is the best thing about this quiet Netflix sci-fi.  She gives vibrancy and soul to an otherwise dull, barely-there plot.  Not bad, not good.

I Am Mother

5.1 / 10

Like “IO”, another of the dystopian future, science-fiction entries from Netflix.  Again, a tiny cast explores themes of isolation and flaws of humanity.  Meh.

The Beach Bum

5.0 / 10

McConaughey stars as Moondog in Harmony Korine’s nihilistic film about a multi-millionaire beach bum who smokes and drinks himself to inspiration.

Pain and Glory

5.0 / 10

Pedro Almodovar’s clearly autobiographical film features a nice performance from Antonio Banderas, but feels far too personal to have universal appeal.

The BAD

(Movies That Just Didn’t Work)

Toy Story 4

4.8 / 10

The famous franchise is running out of ideas rather quickly.  This entry in the series simply recycles old storylines and gags.  I was pretty bored.

Hustlers

4.6 / 10

Here is an example of a film that virtually begs its audience to like and sympathize with bad human beings.  I have no problem with the lead girls being strippers.  However, once they start drugging clients and stealing tens of thousands of dollars, they lose any and all empathy that I may have been able to muster.  The film misguidedly tries to create “sisterhood” with a cast of terrible mothers and vigilante thieves who think the world owes them a life of luxury

Greta

4.4 / 10

Chloe Grace Moretz befriends a lonely Isabelle Huppert and slowly begins to regret ever meeting her.  It is a well acted, nutty thriller that feels all too predictable and hard to believe.  As a result, it evokes more laughter than fear.  “Greta” is instantly forgettable cinema.

Rambo: Last Blood

4.4 / 10

Of the four preceeding Rambo films… two have been great “First Blood” (1982) and “Rambo” (2008).  The other two were really poor.  “Last Blood” promises violent revenge killings and delivers in spades.  Unfortunately the script is forced and clunky.  The titular character has been drained of humanity.

Angel Has Fallen

4.3 / 10

Secret Service agent, Mike Banning, is saving the President yet again.  It is formulaic, predictable and preposterous.  “Olympus” was great.  “London” was passable.  “Angel” is sub-par.  They are all infinitely superior to “White House Down”, which, thankfully, never got a sequel.  Hopefully, this is the last entry.

Jojo Rabbit

4.2 / 10

Taika Waititi directs this bizarre hybrid of oddball humor and WWII coming-of-age drama.  The film isn’t quite funny enough to make you laugh, and it certainly isn’t dramatic enough to keep you enthralled.  Both ends of the rope are tripping up the same movie.  It is passable, but forgettable too.

Booksmart

3.9 / 10

A teen comedy that tries desperately to blend wacky comedy with heartfelt emotion.  The result is a run-of-the-mill misfire.  The jokey scenes are all relatively cliché — each antic forcibly crammed in to fit a meaningless plot.  The emotional scenes have no resonance because the characters have no connection to real teenage life.  There is nothing to hate here…  It just feels like a weak-sauce SNL skit that drags on for way too long.

Escape Room

3.8 / 10

You expect a movie like this to be ridiculous.  It is.  What you hope for are some cheap thrills.  They are a few… but not enough.  Very predictable stuff.

Good Boys

3.8 / 10

The absolute definition of a one-joke comedy.  It peaks at minute three.  Also, it feels too PG13 — when it needed to be a hard R.

Cold Pursuit

3.7 / 10

Combine a run-of-the-mill Liam Neeson ass-kicking flick with a desperately bizarre attempt at dark comedy… and you get this failed concoction. 

High Flying Bird

3.6 / 10

Soderbergh’s flick about an NBA agent trying to negotiate his way around a lockout is as graceful as a missed dunk. The script takes itself way too seriously and has delusions of grandeur.  These characters are not as smart as the “Aaron Sorkin imitation dialogue” would have you believe.  What we are left with is a trivial story of millionaires playing simple mind-games with other millionaires.  It is all so boring and smug.

Zombieland: Double Tap

2.9 / 10

A poor rehashing of all the same jokes and zombie kills we saw ten years ago… only with a barely-there plot and terrible special effects.  They do sprinkle in a few additional characters to avoid making the same exact film.  Zoey Deutch’s legally blonde bimbo delivers the only legitimately funny moments.

Doctor Sleep

2.8 / 10

The sequel we didn’t need or want to Kubrick’s classic, “The Shining”.  This movie did exactly what it promised… It put me right to sleep.

Crawl

2.8 / 10

A standard deadly animal scare-flick set amidst a hurricane.  The gators serve up 3 or 4 scares… but the tropes are all too familiar.  It gets very silly.

Terminator: Dark Fate

2.5 / 10

Other than the atrocious Christian Bale one, this is the worst in the Terminator franchise by a country mile.  The plot is absurd.  The performances are all mailed in.  The effects are weak.  Linda Hamilton is too old for this.  Watching this film will make you question your life choices.  This was really poor.

The Vanishing

2.3 / 10

Gerard Butler’s film starts off as a thrilling and mysterious ‘found money’ adventure, but soon devolves into an absurd and gruesome mess.

The Worst of the year

(Hate-Filled Pieces of Crap)

Bombshell

1.9 / 10

I would usually like anything that bashes Fox News… but this feels like a lame ‘made-for-TV’ movie with dreadful caricatures and cheap re-enactments.  The only thing that elevates this is the absurdly expensive cast.  Nothing in this film is authentic or has any artistic value.  This is an embarrassing production.

Charlie’s Angels

1.9 / 10

The girls are gorgeous and the pace is lightning quick.  Unfortunately, Elizabeth Banks directs this film with all the skill and nuance of a 1973 Benny Hill sketch.  Every ludicrous scene is narrated with a stupid, obvious quip.  Every absurd plot point is recapped as if we are too moronic to follow.  Dreadful.

Ford v Ferrari

1.9 / 10

I really disliked this film from the opening credits.  Everything about the film feels inauthentic and cliché.  The story is clearly embellished.  The performances are uniformly one-note.  The script is so predictable that I could almost mouth along with the actors as they were delivering the lines.  This is the absolute definition of a standard Hollywood sports movie.  It all felt so distinctly average.  Do yourself a favor and avoid this snore-fest.

Gemini Man

1.8 / 10

I haven’t been this bored by a big-budget action film in a long time.  The youthful CGI Will Smith looks really artificial.  The plot is dumb.  Nothing is at stake.

Berlin, I Love You

1.8 / 10

In the “I Love You” series of collective short-films, “Berlin, I Love You” is by far the worst of the bunch.  “Paris, Je t’aime” was an eclectic melange of highs and lows.  “New York, I Love You” was combined brilliance.  However, “Berlin” is a disastrous and depressing mix of emotionally-bereft short-film turds.

Murder Mystery

1.8 / 10

Adam Sandler’s Netflix output is dismal.  He isn’t even trying much anymore.  This is another excuse to get his regular gang a paycheck while on vacation.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

1.3 / 10

Long ago, in a cinematic galaxy far, far away, Star Wars had been considered cheesy, childish crap.  This is the 6th really poor film in the franchise.  Only three good ones in the bunch (and they weren’t that good).  This entry is way too perfunctory.  I literally stopped caring on the familiar first note to John Williams tired score.  If this type of kiddie entertainment still matters to you — YOU are part of the problem.  This is a really dismal movie.

Fractured

1.1 / 10

A straight-to-DVD style plot with atrociously implausible characters and an eye-rolling conclusion that is so cliche, it is hard not to burst out laughing.

Richard Jewell

0.4 / 10

This is an inept, highly incompetent film that fumbles facts intentionally in order to suit its agenda.  The film accuses Kathy Scruggs with zero evidence… while attacking everyone else of doing the same thing to Richard Jewell.  It also tries to make a hero out of a pathetic, power-hungry, moron who didn’t do anything laudable whatsoever.  Clint Eastwood has made a handful of good films over the past 40 years… but he has made dozens of terrible ones too.

Yes… There is a Section Lower than the Worst Movies of the Year!
I Present a List of Films That I Absolutely Refuse to Watch… (Because I am a Pretentious Film Snob).

“Avengers: Endgame”
I gave up on people in spandex, fighting for good over evil, when I was in my early teens.

“Hobbs & Shaw”
I lost interest in the Fast / Furious franchise 5 minutes into the first one.

“Aladdin”
Guy Ritchie is the worst director of all time… No chance!

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