2019, you good fam?
It’s no secret that 2019 hasn’t consistently delivered quality cinema, at least from where I’m standing. I’m sure the festival circuit is popping, but most people don’t get to go there. This summer has been especially dry, with several big-budget blockbusters turning out to be, uh, not great.
With all that said, are there still movies worth celebrating? Absolutely. These are personal favourites, and none of these films are perfect. But I do think they’re all great, and worth praising.
5: How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (dir. Dean DeBlois)
It’s both a relief and a pleasure watching the conclusion to the magnificent How to Train Your Dragon trilogy. Such a satisfying and decisive ending is rare in today’s era of sequels spinoffs. The film isn’t without its faults, the chief among them being a forgettable and uninteresting villain, but the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless has never been more fleshed out, with a touching and tear jerking conclusion for its main cast both human and dragon alike. It’s about growing up and finding your place in the world, making the mature decision even when it hurts. It’s epic, funny, frequently beautiful, and does right by the characters. What more could you ask for from the capstone to one of the best animated trilogies of the 2010s?
4: Booksmart (dir. Olivia Wilde)
Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut is, simply put, an incredibly tight film. There’s not really a moment or joke that felt unnecessary or indulgent. Even the given third act fight (that every comedy has) felt earned and organic. The movie is deeply funny and pleasantly clever. Its central premise – the night before their graduation, two straight A students decide that they need to go to a party to make their high-school experience complete – is about subverting established tropes. The film carries this idea to delightful ends, ultimately celebrating the multitudes contained in each person. Occasionally it’s unclear if you’re supposed to be laughing with the film’s dual protagonists or at them, which isn’t necessarily a problem, but it does sometimes give pause. Regardless, Booksmart is intelligent, youthful, and exciting. More of this, please!
3: John Wick 3: Parabellum (dir. Chad Stahelski)
Okay, so I’m convinced that the John Wick films are far more clever than people give them credit for. All of them, even the first one, are far from dumb action films. This theory will be laid out in an article one day, but for now let me just clarify that John Wick 3: Parabellum is no exception to the trend. With killer and inventive action, fascinating worldbuilding and excellent narrative escalation, this film is everything I wanted it to be. Most films simply can’t match the style of spectacle of the John Wick series. Plus, Halle Berry owns dual combat pooches who literally jump two stories to bite foes. How coolis that?
2: Toy Story 4 (dir. Josh Cooley)
I’m as surprised as anyone that this film is near anyone’s best of list. From the moment it was announced I was readyto hate on this film; it had to be a simple cash grab. The trilogy ended. There’s no more story to tell. While I’m still not sure that this film wasn’t a cash grab (honestly, most mainstream films are), I am certain that this film is absolutely excellent. Forky is instantly iconic and I honestly couldn’t imagine a better ending for Woody. It’s a thoughtful and self-reflexive finale that shines new light on its predecessors. Plus, it is animated in an absolutely breath-taking way. It’s rare that the best movie in a 30-year series is the fourth one. But that may just be the case for Toy Story.
1: Avengers: Endgame (dir. Anthony and Joe Russo)
I was about eleven when Iron Man first dropped in 2008. I got to watch the MCU grow and expand as I, myself, galloped through my adolescence. The films weren’t always great, obviously, but the characters – especially Tony Stark and Steve Rogers – permanently occupied a place in my heart. Endgame isn’t just a good Avengers movie, it crystalizes the entire MCU preceding it, giving their arcs shape and purpose. It cemented Tony Stark not just as the cleverest Avenger, but one who is motivated not by a desire to do good but by the terror of what his failure could bring. He’s always overcompensating, fighting desperately against his own self-destructive tendencies to make the world a safer place for when he’s gone. Steve Rogers was always the man out of time, fighting the good fight not just out of a sense of duty, but also a complete lack of anything else in his life. He is without a home to return to; a soldier on an eternal tour of duty. Most meaningfully, I think Endgame finally gave the MCU a sense of weight. Finally these characters are made to live in the world they’ve built: their actions have had consequences for themselves and their loved ones. Never before has a Marvel film truly took a beat to ask: wait, why are we fighting? What is all this for? Endgame finally did that. Its answer was beautiful and simple; we fight to give our loved ones a world worth living in.