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2019: The Wild Rides

Posted January 16, 2020 By Curiosity Inc.

I draw a subtle yet crucial distinction between “greatest” films and “favorite” films. There are movies to be praised for their excellence in filmmaking craft and their contribution to the enlightenment of society at large, and then there are the movies to be praised because they’re so much damned fun. In that spirit, here are my picks for the Wild Rides of 2019.

Best Kids’ Adventure

Detective Pikachu was far and away better than it had any right to be. I don’t know if anyone was expecting such a goofball premise to be taken halfway seriously, much less for the filmmakers to craft such a vivid and intricately detailed world. Even so, I honestly prefer Dora and the Lost City of Gold, if only because Isabela Moner proved herself to be a far superior leading actor. Plus, I find the contrast of a wide-eyed and fantastic protagonist in a mundane world far more compelling than a stick-in-the-mud stumbling through a world of magical monsters.

And today, both of them are losing out to The Kid Who Would Be King, one of the most tragically underrated films of the year. Such a damn shame that this one got stuck with a godawful January release date right after its studio got bought out by Disney, because this is a defiantly optimistic, unapologetically goofy, timely and heartfelt work of all-ages fun. I can’t possibly stress enough how this movie deserved so much better than it got, and I strongly recommend checking it out if this one passed you by.

Best Action Movie

Do I even need to say it?

I mean, sure we got Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw. We got Zombieland: Double Tap. Hell, throw in Alita: Battle Angel, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and even Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker if you like. They were all perfectly entertaining action films in their own way.

But not a one of them was John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum.

Really, what else do I have to say? The opening knife fight alone should be enough to make it the best action film of the year. Hell, that was probably the greatest knife fight ever committed to film! From there we got all those shootouts, the horseback chase scene, the attack dogs… it was John Wick. When you see that name, you know exactly what you’re getting, and that’s the best in modern action cinema.

Best Animated Film

There’s no way I’m narrowing this one down to five or fewer, because 2019 was an insanely good year for animation in cinema.

This was the year of Frozen II. Toy Story 4. The Addams Family (2019). Abominable. The Lego Movie 2. Missing Link. Spies in Disguise. I thought every single one of those was anywhere from okay to astounding, and all of them brought something new to the table. But even with such a wide variety of quality to choose from this year, picking out the best is an easy choice.

With How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, the Dreamworks saga firmly established itself as one of the greatest trilogies in film history. Film students will be arguing for decades as to whether “Toy Story” or “How to Train Your Dragon” is the greatest animated trilogy of all time. This final entry brought in clever callbacks, tearjerking goodbyes, soaring action scenes, worldbuilding on a truly epic scale, and so much more. There was colossal pressure to craft a worthy capstone to one of Dreamworks’ flagship franchises, and it speaks volumes that the filmmakers knocked it clear out of the park.

Best Comedy

Sword of Trust earns a mention, but I’ve never been a fan of rambling semi-improv comedy in film. Yes, there was a fair bit of that in Booksmart as well, but that film was far more tightly edited and the chemistry between actors was way more solid. And then of course we have the genre-bending oddity of Happy Death Day 2U, a film so broad and off-the-wall that it’s easily more of a comedy than a horror.

Still, the clear winner here is Dolemite Is My Name. The sex scene alone is more than enough to make this the funniest film of the year. The cast is sterling from top to bottom, and almost every single one of them turns in the most hilarious performances of their respective careers. Moreover, this is a legitimately great movie that got completely shut out of the Oscars this year. DAMMIT.

Best Horror

Over the past ten years or so, the horror genre has been built on a “low risk/low reward” model. That reached its natural conclusion this year, with an overwhelming quantity of horror films and precious few above mediocre. I’m specifically referring to Crawl, though that one at least had a pair of solid lead performances. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was also pretty forgettable in comparison to most other horror films, though it doesn’t feel entirely fair comparing a legitimately solid PG-13 horror film to its tepid barely-R-rated genre peers.

That leaves the two Stephen King adaptations. It: Chapter Two was mostly salvaged by the cast — the bloated length dragged down the horror aspect, and the filmmakers couldn’t overcome the flaws and drawbacks inherent in the source text. Yet somehow, these didn’t seem to be problems for Doctor Sleep, a movie that packed its lengthy runtime with compelling drama and powerful atmosphere. Moreover, the film was loaded with fantastic scares and deeply satisfying callbacks to The Shining.

It feels almost reductive to call Doctor Sleep the “Best Horror” because it succeeds on so many levels, but it absolutely deserves a top honor for the year.

Best Satirical/Political Horror

Yes, I had to make a second horror category because of how many horror films we got this year. Especially considering how many horror films in 2019 were themed around some social/political theme.

The obvious example is Us, which was built from the ground up to talk about race in fantastically creepy ways. We’ve also got The Dead Don’t Die, a smart-assed zombie flick that took a misanthropic swipe at everything in reach. And of course we can’t forget Black Christmas (2019), a brilliant movie about sexual assault and toxic masculinity framed as a boilerplate slasher flick.

Compare that to Ready or Not, a film that delivered biting socioeconomic commentary without compromising the slasher movie thrills. If anything, the film’s pitch-black humor only made it smarter, scarier, and funnier. Additionally, looking over all the many wonderful leading ladies in horror we’ve seen this year, I’ve come around on Samara Weaving — she more than earns her place at the table with this one.

Best Superhero Movie

This was of course a banner year for superhero cinema — it seems like every year is, nowadays. It was an especially big year for Marvel, as Captain Marvel introduced the last few crucial pieces of the Infinity Saga, while Spider-Man: Far From Home dealt with the immediate aftermath. Both movies were certainly entertaining and delivered fine superhero thrills. But not like DC’s big effort this year.

Shazam! brought us a standard superhero origin story with many remarkable twists. It’s a movie that brings the childlike sense of fantasy and joy of the genre, without ever losing the pathos or stakes. It’s fun in a mischievous kind of way, it’s legitimately scary without overdoing it for the kids in the audience, and it successfully adapts a goofy-ass Golden Age origin story for a modern audience. This was an innovative and fearless breath of fresh air for a genre (and a company) that badly needed it.

Greatest Wild Ride

We got a lot of great CGI spectaculars this year. We got Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. We got Godzilla: King of the Monsters. We got all those superhero films I just mentioned.

But Avengers: Endgame is in a league of its own.

Endgame was such a titanic accomplishment of cinema, there’s really no point in comparing it to other movies. Over a decade’s worth of promises and two dozen movies’ worth of setups went into this one, and it delivered on pretty much every one. We got satisfying resolutions to character arcs that had been iconic for years. We got the most epic battle sequence in cinema history. We got comedy and action and pathos. We got callbacks and cameos and surprises around every corner.

The superfranchise is still an extremely new concept. Nobody’s ever done it as well as Marvel (though many have tried), and certainly nobody’s ever completed one so well as Marvel did. As a direct result, I don’t think we have any concept, any word, any suitable means of describing exactly what Marvel did with this crown jewel of a film.

Let’s hope for brighter surprises in the decade ahead.