by Hans A. Carpenter
This year, I had the pleasure of seeing a lot of really great movies. This was an odd year in that the duds were only soft thuds, not total bombs. The highs were high, and the lows were more dips than craters. It warms my heart to see this list so populated with horror. I’ve always had a love-hate thing with horror, because I absolutely adore good horror but the vast majority of Hollywood horror is garbage. Now that studios (mostly A24) are allowing more experimentation, we’re having a bit of an art horror renaissance. Here are a few of my favorites from 2019, in no particular order.
Jordan Peel has stepped out of the comedy scene to bring a fresh perspective and an undeniable flair to the horror genre. His follow up to the breakout hit Get Out is an ambitious tale of a family stalked by their doubles. Us is an unsettling movie that stands alone in a year rife with great horror.
Speaking of great horror, Ari Aster’s sophomore followup to the primal terror of Hereditary is a much different slow burn in the folk horror Midsommer, which sees a group of Americans who get more than they bargained for on a trip to a Swedish commune. This is a layered movie with a strong core and an utterly tight suspense.
Robert Eggers is another of the young horror directors to be a part of the horror renaissance of the last few years, and he took his art-house style to make a movie that’s almost indescribable. Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe are locked in a remote lighthouse in an old-timey black and white period piece that wouldn’t feel out of place among the German expressionist movies of the 20s. Here we have a descent into madness that’s a coming out party for Pattinson and another feather in Dafoe’s now quite large cap.
Ready or Not
Matt Bettlinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett
This was a surprising treat that’s as darkly funny as it is surreal. A family of rich weirdos are forced to hunt their son’s new wife on his wedding day in a ritualistic game of hide and seek. It’s as silly and as fun as it sounds.
John Wick 3
Sometimes, the basics are all you need. John Wick tells a simple story of a man being hunted by a guild of assassins with stunning cinematography, great world building and the best action sequences in cinema today.
The Russo Brothers
How do you cap a 21-movie epic? Like this. Avengers Endgame stuck the landing with impossible odds and gave easily the most satisfying penultimate chapter to any big-budget blockbuster series. It’s not the end of Marvel, but it’s a great cap to a fun ride of movies.
Joachim Phoenix is on another level. This origin story for The Joker is a complex, unsettling look at a man’s descent into madness and it’s impossible to look away. Phoenix takes his place among the great Joker interpretations in a comic book movie the likes of which you’ve never seen.
Rian Johnson left the galaxy far far away to helm a really, really fun whodunit with a star-studded ensemble cast. This is a very funny, very suspenseful and gripping mystery and an all-around good time at the theater.
Toy Story 4
This is easily the worst Toy Story movie, and it’s still a really, really good movie, kids flick or otherwise. That’s how strong this series is. Toy Story 4 does feel unnecessary, but screenwriters Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom still pack an emotional wallop and something to say into this animated spectacular.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Tarantino’s latest, most overt love letter to classic Hollywood isn’t his best work, but even average Tarantino is great. This flick lets Leonardo DiCaprio show off his incredible acting prowess again, and his chemistry with Brad Pitt is undeniably the stuff of bromance dreams.
Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year!