2019 was a banner year for MEL’s film coverage, comprising interviews, think pieces, dumb jokes, scientific inquiries and whatever the hell resident lunatic Brian VanHooker thought he was doing by volunteering to attend the 59-hour Marvel movie marathon.
What’s the best way, then, to summarize all of this? With a ranked list, of course. Below is every film we discussed in 2019, ranked in terms of that film’s quality. Let me be clear, too, that this list includes movies from earlier than 2019 — as well as cable documentaries, films that streamed only on Netflix and a movie that we feel confident predicting you have never heard of. (The reason? Because it never got made. And we’re not even talking about Blood Meridian.)
Looking through the list, I’m blown away by how many films we covered. But also, I’m incredibly impressed with the wide variety of insights and perspectives. Many of these pieces were written by me, but the rest of the MEL crew chimed in as well. Whether it’s astrology or foot fetishes, Thanos’ ass or little people playing R2-D2, we thought hard about the movies we consumed — about what they say about us and also the culture at large.
131) The Dirt: “The film celebrates a band — and an era — in which artistry and originality played second-fiddle to an entitled belief that any dumb, horny white dude deserved his 15 minutes of rock ‘n’ roll stardom. The movie sucks because the band sucks because the era sucked.” Wow, I really did hate this Mötley Crüe biopic.
130) Rim of the World: When filmmakers say that their latest project will be an homage to 1980s kids’ movies, you know you’re screwed. Case in point: Rim of the World, an atrocious Netflix movie directed by McG that featured some of the most annoying young actors I hope to never see again. (The film did, however, make me curious to learn what a “Lithuanian smoothie” was.)
129) Rambo: Last Blood: Whenever John Rambo shows up at the multiplex, he’s fighting the bad guys but also helping America through its latest existential crisis. I wrote about what Last Blood says about the state of the union — while Jordan Hoffman looked at other franchises that are now completely unrecognizable from where they started out.
128) Sextuplets: Remember this Marlon Wayans comedy where he portrays six different characters, all born from the same mother? Of course you don’t — you have better things to do. This didn’t, however, stop Jordan Hoffman from compiling an exhaustive history of comedians playing several roles in the same film. It’s the only piece we published this year that mentions Alec Guinness, George Hamilton and Adam Sandler.
127) Men in Black: International: Studios aren’t going to stop trying to reboot every one of their properties in the hopes that they make lots of money. The nadir of this trend was this terrible sequel/reboot, which cast two very likable actors (Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson) in an utterly pointless new Men in Black adventure. Death to the zombie franchises, I say.
126) Playing With Fire: It’s such a weird trope: Hollywood habitually will cast a macho tough guy in a kids’ comedy, assuming that the change-of-pace role will lead to a box-office bonanza. That didn’t prove the case with Playing With Fire, but Hoffman went back through the history of this strange subgenre, charting the highs (Kindergarten Cop) and lows (Top Dog).
125) Hellboy: The Guillermo del Toro Hellboy movies are good. You should see them. In 2019, a new Hellboy came out. Del Toro had nothing to do with it. That movie was horrible. But I mostly felt sad for the new film — it must be embarrassing to try that hard to be badass.
124) Stuber: Sometimes, a wretched movie has a lot of interesting ideas. That was certainly the case with this disastrous Kumail Nanjiani-Dave Bautista action-comedy, which examined masculinity in the #MeToo age. Too bad the movie was a total dud.
123) Friday the 13th: “An abandoned summer camp is definitely a good, creepy place to set loose a homicidal maniac. It’s isolated; there are lots of places to hide. When camp isn’t in session — like in the movie — there aren’t enough people there, so it feels really empty and it definitely can be creepy.” The intrepid VanHooker spoke to three camp counselors to find out how accurate the original Friday the 13th is. I especially loved the responses to whether or not they could take out Mrs. Vorhees.
122) Child’s Play: In 2019, we got a new Child’s Play. Luke Skywalker was the voice of the doll! What’s funniest about this bad reboot is how it demonstrates that, seriously, Chucky is such a needy little shit. C’mon, man: Just because Andy doesn’t love you anymore doesn’t mean you have to start getting all homicidal.
121) Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker: Speaking of Luke Skywalker… boy, was this movie bad. So let’s talk about the good: In December, we devoted a whole week to Star Wars. We ranked all the non-score music in the films. We checked in on Jedi churches. We talked to some people who really love Admiral Ackbar. We looked back at the craziest Star Wars rip-off, Starcrash. We paid homage to Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk, the disco record that time forgot. We discovered the rather moving story of Coalville, a small English industrial town with a strange claim to fame: It’s rumored to be the spot where thousands of dollars’ worth of Star Wars toys are buried. We spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about being digested by the Sarlacc. We talked to people who have never seen Star Wars. We wrote about Mike Zeroh, who’s infamous for breaking Star Wars scoops that are always wrong. We fantasized about eating Star Wars characters. We pondered the ethics of casting little people to play R2-D2. And if all that wasn’t enough, we spent our downtime wondering if the Mandalorian bones with his helmet on. (By the way, The Mandalorian is so much better than Rise of Skywalker.)
120) The Red Sea Diving Resort: This Netflix drama was the first film from any of the major MCU actors after Avengers: Endgame. So I was curious to see how Chris Evans (aka Captain America) would fare playing a Mossad agent helping shepherd Ethiopian Jews to safety in the late 1970s. Alas, The Red Sea Diving Resort (which is based on a true story) didn’t give him much to work with.
119) Angel Has Fallen: Like most people, I assumed that Olympus Has Fallen would be a one-off action vehicle for Gerard Butler, perpetual B-movie star. But no: This summer, we got Angel Has Fallen, the third movie in the trilogy. How did this franchise become a thing when the first movie was hardly a blockbuster? Keith Phipps crunched the numbers, discovering that relatively low-budget franchises don’t operate under the same rules as, say, Men in Black: International.
118) The Kitchen: It’s been interesting to see how Hollywood has navigated the #MeToo age so far. The Kitchen, based on the comic book, is a mob story involving the wives of three gangsters. The movie didn’t work, but its tale of female empowerment — and its notion that the only good man is a dead one — definitely speaks to the times.
117) Shaft: We attacked this woeful Shaft sequel from three angles. I wrote about, as a white man, what John Shaft’s imposing black masculinity means. Keith Phipps chronicled the character’s long history, from books to TV movies. And Zaron Burnett III hosted, as he put it, “a multigenerational roundtable of Black men” to discuss the private detective’s shifting legacy in the Black community.
116) The Addams Family: If I told you that Oscar Isaac, Charlize Theron, Chloë Grace Moretz and Elsie Fisher would all be in the same movie, you’d probably be interested, right? Unfortunately, that film was the new Addams Family animated movie. Kristy Puchko took the opportunity to look at other all-time terrible films featuring star-studded casts. (I’m still scarred from Movie 43.)
115) Sonic the Hedgehog: This movie doesn’t come out until next year, and the reason why is because the studio was forced to redo the design work for Sonic, pushing the film back to 2020. But why did Sonic’s human teeth freak out so many people? Quinn Myers called up some dentists to learn the answer. (He also went the extra mile, interviewing Hollywood sculptor/designer Curt Chiarelli about what the filmmakers got wrong with their reconceived Sonic.)
114) Velvet Buzzsaw: Jake Gyllenhaal starred in this horror-satire about a collection of paintings that curse anyone who looks at them. Velvet Buzzsaw allowed me to rail against one of my least-favorite comedy targets: the pretentiousness of the art world.
113) Justice League: Yes, this (bad) movie came out in 2017, but it was still in the discourse in 2019 — largely thanks to online folks who keep hope alive that there is some magical Zack Snyder Cut of the film sitting in a vault just waiting to be embraced as the masterpiece it is. This is all so, so stupid — especially after Justice League stars Gal Gadot and Ben Affleck tweeted the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut hashtag — and thank god Miles Klee explained why in this perfect post.
112) Dark Phoenix: The X-Men franchise died with a whimper thanks to Dark Phoenix, which is especially terrible at trying to be “feminist.”
111) Long Shot: Oh, thank god, another romantic comedy starring an ordinary dude and a beautiful woman. Still, we were happy that Long Shot gave us a chance to shout-out our favorite Seth Rogen performances.
110) The Beach Bum: Shame on us for thinking that Matthew McConaughey had learned his lesson and would stop making bad movies. In honor of The Beach Bum, I wrote about why the McConaissance was always a lie.
109) Midway: Roland Emmerich was once the god of disaster-movie cinema. So what happened?
108) Glass: Like a lot of people, I was very happy for M. Night Shyamalan’s comeback. Split was a good movie, and the idea of him revisiting the world of Unbreakable, his best film, made me happy. Instead, we got Glass, which was a bitter disappointment — and a reminder of the director’s worst qualities. (The movie also inspired me to ask the MEL team to name their favorite non-Marvel/DC superhero films.)
107) Bird Box: Over last holiday season, Bird Box was a massive hit for Netflix. Well, at least that’s what Netflix told us — the company famously keeps its viewership numbers secret. I argued why we shouldn’t trust them.
106) Pokémon Detective Pikachu: “I decided to rank the three words in the movie’s title in ascending order of their importance to the overall film. If you happen to be stuck at the world’s worst dinner party and need to sound knowledgeable about Pokémon arcana, then quickly run to the bathroom and read this article. I suffered through this movie so you didn’t have to.” You’re welcome, world. (Meanwhile, Tierney Finster interviewed screenwriters Dan Hernandez and Benji Samit to learn how you turn a video game character into the star of a summer blockbuster.)
105) Green Book: When Green Book won Best Picture early this year, the obvious response from most of us was, “Who the hell loves Green Book?” Miles Klee went looking for answers. Big shock: It’s white people, including Larry King and Katie Couric.
104) The Santa Clause: This completely inane movie inspired a terrific piece from Bill Black, who examined Tim Allen’s startling superstardom at the time of its release. Black’s thesis: “Allen emerge[d] as a symbol of liberal Boomer masculinity, not wanting to restore the old patriarchy but also not sure what men should do next.”
103) Bloodsport: For more than 20 years, there’s been a belief that Donald Trump’s favorite movie is Bloodsport, the forgotten 1988 Jean-Claude Van Damme action film. But is that true? Brian VanHooker talked to journalists and Bloodsport’s filmmakers to get some answers. (I especially loved the digression into Citizen Kane, which is actually Trump’s favorite movie, even though he doesn’t understand it at all.)
102) Spider-Man: Far From Home: It was always going to be hard to live up to Avengers: Endgame, but Far From Home, which arrived about three months after that rousing finale, was still awfully disappointing. (Meanwhile, Joseph Longo examined how TikTok users are creating a more inclusive idea of Spider-Man.)
101) Zombieland: Double Tap: The original Zombieland was surprisingly emotional and funny (and also scary). It has deservedly earned cult-classic status. You know what you shouldn’t do with a cult classic? Try to repeat its unlikely success 10 years later. (Also, why the hell is there no mention of Twinkies in Double Tap?)
100) Between Two Ferns: The Movie: I love Between Two Ferns. So why didn’t I like the Netflix movie? Because, as Zach Galifianakis perhaps knows, it’s harder to be a snotty outsider when you’re a chummy Hollywood insider.
99) The Highwaymen: This Kevin Costner-Woody Harrelson crime drama has such an interesting premise. We all know the story of Bonnie and Clyde, but what would it have been like to be lawmen at that time trying to hunt those murderers down? The Highwaymen isn’t very good, but it does speak to a part of the audience that prefers old-fashioned movies — or, at least, ones starring actors your dad loves.
98) Hobbs & Shaw: The Fast and Furious movies are such big, dumb fun that it’s tempting to assume that they’re easy to make. Not so, and Hobbs & Shaw proved it.
97) Shazam!: What will I remember about this superhero movie? That my negative review inspired death threats, which wasn’t fun.
96) Cold Pursuit: Everything seemed to be running smoothly — Liam Neeson was out promoting his latest Taken-style action-drama, and all was right with the world. But then he started talking about a racist, violent fantasy he had about avenging a friend who was raped by a black man. It was a shit-show from there. Miles wrote about Neeson’s noxious comments. I wrote about the weird history of actors who sabotage their movies by giving boneheaded interviews.
95) Dumbo: The MEL staff picked their favorite movie animals as a way to forget this awful Tim Burton live-action remake.
94) Gemini Man: “As popular as [Will Smith] is, it’s hard to shake the feeling that he’s trying to outrun the inevitable: Pretty soon, he won’t be able to be the Will Smith we’ve known from so many blockbusters. In a sense, that’s an existential problem, but Gemini Man makes it literal since he spends most of the film trying not to be killed by his younger, stronger self.” I found writing and thinking about Gemini Man more interesting than actually watching it.
93) Charlie’s Angels: For more than 40 years, Charlie’s Angels has been part of the pop-culture landscape. Elizabeth Banks’ latest redo was the most feminist take yet on the property, but I argued that might have been a mistake. (Seems like audiences agreed: The film bombed.)
92) Godzilla: King of the Monsters: Like its 2014 predecessor, Godzilla: King of the Monsters imagines a future where humanity is basically meaningless amidst such powerful monsters. This is a weird recent trend in event movies. (Also, never forget that this film caused some critics to worry that Godzilla had gotten too fat.)
91) Triple Frontier: Netflix continued to make huge strides this year, helping to guide great movies like Marriage Story and The Irishman to theaters. But, listen, they still make garbage. Triple Frontier inspired me to riff on the company’s uncanny-valley duds.
90) Natural Born Killers: I saw this Oliver Stone movie opening night back in 1994. I haven’t seen it since, but for its 25th anniversary, I decided to give it a second chance. Folks, I was right then, and I’m right now about this deeply so-so movie.
89) Legends: Never heard of this? Well, that’s because it doesn’t exist — which is part of the problem. Zaron Burnett III tells the incredible true story of Adam Joiner, a budding filmmaker who had convinced some big money folks in Korea and China to bankroll his dream project, called Legends. (Later, it would be retitled Folkwar.) Too bad the whole thing was a lie. Seriously, someone ought to make a movie about this.
88) Aladdin: Will Smith finally, firmly established himself as America’s Goofy Dad with his performance as Genie in the live-action Aladdin. The movie’s not very good, but it allowed me to talk about Demi Adejuyigbe, the man behind those incredible Will Smith parody end-credits raps.
87) 21 Bridges: Chadwick Boseman took a break from being Black Panther to star in and produce this gritty B-movie. I think there’s a place for low-budget thrillers, even though this one is pretty uninspired. (Meanwhile, Zaron looked at 21 Bridges and Black & Blue to examine how fictional black cops do, and don’t, speak to our post-racial era.)
86) Red Dawn: This 1984 action movie painted a nightmare scenario in which those damn Russians invade the U.S. of A. VanHooker asked three Communists — including film critic Chauncey K. Robinson — what they thought of the movie. (And, yeah, it is pretty stupid that the Ruskies chose Colorado as their invasion point.)
85) Rocketman: “Rocketman is the perfect delivery device for Elton John fans, who will love its shameless euphoria and brazen showmanship. For better or worse, it’s an apt representation of the man’s legacy. Only by watching the movie did I come to a difficult realization: I’m just not that much of an Elton John guy.” I really enjoyed wrestling with my resistance to John’s music in this piece.
84) Frozen/Frozen II: I’ve been recruiting MEL staff members into my secret organization: “The People Who Know That Tangled Is Better Than Frozen.” In the meantime, Joseph Longo tried to figure out why Frozen’s “Let It Go” gets stuck in everyone’s head. (Hint: an uptempo beat, generic melody and unique intervals.) And Jordan Hoffman paid tribute to other princesses who keep cool under pressure. But, honestly, folks: Tangled is so much better.
83) Guava Island: Donald Glover (a.k.a. Childish Gambino) had a pretty memorable weekend this April. On the same day that he played at Coachella, he released a short film on Amazon, Guava Island. The Coachella set blew my mind — the film was deeply disappointing. So I decided to write about both.
82) The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part: I loved Chris Pratt on Parks and Recreation. So why is his film career such a disappointment so far? My theory: “Regular guys” aren’t the best movie stars.
81) The Two Popes: This feel-good drama, starring Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins as, respectively, Pope Francis and Pope Benedict, got Jordan Hoffman thinking: What religious movies have actually been big hits? This article was a good reason to remind everyone that A Serious Man rules.
80) Alita: Battle Angel: We stan bad sci-fi.
79) Quiet Storm: The Ron Artest Story: Showtime released a documentary this year about Metta World Peace, who was once one of basketball’s most volatile players. The man born Ron Artest eventually sought counseling, which helped turn his life around, becoming an outspoken advocate for mental health. I spoke with Quiet Storm filmmaker Johnny Sweet about the fear athletes still have in taking medication and what he learned from Artest.
78) PCU: “I can’t have been the only kid who, between 1998 and 2001, routinely came home from school, flipped on Comedy Central, and saw that PCU was on again.” Miles used the 25th anniversary of this campus comedy to riff on political correctness in comedy and life. This forgotten commercial dud inspired some nice insights from Klee: “I’ll always be thankful for what I’ve come to regard as PCU’s hidden truth, something only the last couple decades bring into focus: The privileged have always grumbled that they’re the victims of everyone else’s search for justice and equality, and year after year they act like any tiny step in that direction marks the demise of some glittering utopia.”
77) Terminator: Dark Fate: This franchise has never been given credit for how female-centric it is. Also, how much does James Cameron’s endorsement matter? Lastly, we’d like to offer a modest proposal: If more than half of the movies in your franchise suck, stop making ‘em.
76) Bombshell: Not bad, but maybe too soon.
75) Richard Jewell: God, the way this movie treated Kathy Scruggs pissed me off.
74) Captain Marvel: This was the first MCU film to be led by a female character, so of course people were rooting for it. However, rooting for a movie and actually thinking the movie is great are two very different things. (Also, what’s up with straight dudes making a big deal out of announcing that they don’t think Brie Larson is hot?)
73) Yesterday: Everybody has to deal with imposter syndrome from time to time. What’s potentially great about Yesterday was how it took that condition to its worst extreme: Imagine being the only guy in the world who’s heard of the Beatles? It would be amazing, you’d think, because you could claim credit for writing all those indelible songs. But, eventually, your stardom would feel unearned — you know that you’re a fraud. I wrote about that, and also how much it costs to license Beatles songs for a movie.
72) Queen & Slim: Hollywood has long been fixated on stories about lovers on the lam. Queen & Slim subverted the genre conventions in really interesting ways.
71) Doctor Sleep: The Shining is a movie about an abusive father and husband. This long-anticipated sequel wrestles with the legacy of Jack Torrance, mostly successfully.
70) On the Basis of Sex: We’re used to movies in which the wife is the supportive, supporting character. But recent films like On the Basis of Sex have flipped the script. I’m on board, and so is Miles, who I’m glad to see mentioned Julie & Julia in his overview of supporting husband characters.
69) Dolemite Is My Name: Eddie Murphy’s love letter to Rudy Ray Moore helped launch the comic’s comeback in 2019. And if you’re interested in Moore’s entire filmic oeuvre, Nathan Rabin provided an instructive deep dive into the Dolemite cinematic universe.
68) Funny People: Judd Apatow’s most divisive film turned 10 years old in 2019. I rewatched Funny People, discovering how, unlike the Adam Sandler character, Apatow has changed and evolved as he’s gotten older.
67) Good Boys: I hope all men are like this in the future.
66) The King: You know, the movie where Timothée Chalamet has a bowl cut.
65) The Great Hack: Documentary filmmakers Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim wanted to chronicle Cambridge Analytica, the political consulting firm that harvested Facebook users’ data during the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the Brexit referendum. I interviewed the directors about our lack of online privacy — and why they’re still on Facebook anyway.
64) The Biggest Little Farm: Filmmaker John Chester decided he wanted to move out of L.A. and start a farm. His chef wife Molly was game. That’s when the challenges began. The Biggest Little Farm traces the history of their biodynamic farm, but when I interviewed Chester, I was more interested in how this profound change affected their marriage. He was very candid about the hardships they faced. “It nearly tore Molly and I apart,” he told me. “If it weren’t for our couples therapist that we ended up having to get at Year Three or Four, we probably wouldn’t be together.”
63) The Lion King: I tip my cap to my editors, who came up with the headline that summed up my piece succinctly: “Why Do We Keep Redoing All These Fucking Movies?”
62) The Rocky franchise: Should you base your workout regimen on this bloated franchise? Probably not. But VanHooker talked to fitness experts about which movie’s training montage is the best for getting in shape. (Rare it is for Rocky IV to ever top a Rocky ranking.)
61) Paddleton: Straight men have a very tough time expressing their feelings to one another. This low-key character drama, starring Ray Romano and Mark Duplass, understands that in its bones.
60) Climax: “I’m not trying to provoke people,” Gaspar Noé told me over the phone. Yeah, right: The art-house provocateur has been stirring the pot with incendiary films like Irreversible and Enter the Void for years. In 2019, he returned with Climax, which was practically a crowd-pleaser by his standards. We talked sex, death and dance in our very fun conversation.
59) Apollo 11: Happy 50th anniversary to the NASA moon landing — and a certain type of can-do dude energy. I interviewed Apollo 11 director Todd Douglas Miller, who drew from hours of footage to reconstruct the historic mission. We even talked about conspiracy theorists who claim we never landed on the moon: “When Buzz Aldrin punches those people in the face, I kind of understand where that comes from.”
58) Ford v Ferrari: Any chance I get to write about how awful sports-team owners are, believe you me, I will.
57) Booksmart: This comedy adeptly examined teen friendship, but I was especially interested in how it pays tribute to that classic character type: the sidekick.
56) Disobedience: This 2017 romantic drama continues to inflame the culture. As Isabelle Kohn explained, we can’t get enough of “Spit in my mouth.”
55) Now and Then: Quinn Myers remembers distinctly the moment in childhood when his four sisters and their friends were watching and rewinding and watching again the scene in Now and Then when you can see Devon Sawa’s penis. Years later, Myers was on a mission: “I spoke to seven millennial women and discovered that, for teenage girls in the 1990s, this ritual was a coming-of-age moment. Every American girl between the ages of 25 and 40 has a story about this movie: which character they related most to, how seeing Ricci beat the shit out of a male bully made them feel, and of course, where they were when first saw (or thought they saw) Devon Sawa’s member.” It’s a really sweet piece.
54) Mr. Toilet: The World’s #2 Man: Eddie Kim spent some time with Jack Sim, the subject of this under-the-radar documentary. “The 62-year-old is an eternal spring of ideas and motivation,” Kim writes in his profile. “At any given time, Sim is working on a dozen projects, ranging from celebrity outreach to NGO negotiations to nuts-and-bolts fundraising for his nonprofit, the World Toilet Organization. Sim is kind of like the Steve Jobs of shit — singular, outrageous, visionary.” Sim’s calling? He wants to help ensure that everyone in the world has access to a toilet. Don’t laugh: It’s a global crisis, and Mr. Toilet goes into the man’s mission.
53) John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum: Let Keanu Reeves make as many of these as he pleases.
52) Meeting Gorbachev: Werner Herzog wanted to talk about his new documentary, a profile of former leader Mikhail Gorbachev. I wanted to talk about Herzog. We had a fun showdown.
51) Road House: In 1989, Patrick Swayze starred in Road House. Thirty years later, Myers gave the world the definitive history of the movie’s infamous throat-rip scene. (Best quote: “All of us have been ripping people’s throats out in our own way, and we all deal with it in our own way.”)
50) A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: Tom Hanks understands things about Fred Rogers that you and I could never understand.
49) Hustlers: I merely wrote about the zeitgeist-channeling stripper drama. Our own Joseph Longo became part of the Hustlers story:
48) Untouchable: Ursula Macfarlane made a documentary about Harvey Weinstein’s history as an alleged sexual assaulter, speaking with some of his accusers. I interviewed Macfarlane, who told me, “If Harvey doesn’t get convicted, it’s going to be a real blow for [the #MeToo movement]. People will be feeling, ‘Well, what’s the point of putting ourselves on the line like this?’ It’s not easy to speak out — none of these women have done it gladly. They’ve done it because they felt they should.”
47) Who Killed Garrett Phillips?: Before this year, I’d never interviewed someone who’d been tried for murder. Garrett Phillips, the subject of this harrowing HBO documentary, is a soft-spoken man who’s been through a lot.
46) Tell Me Who I Am: Ed Perkins’ documentary about twin brothers Alex and Marcus is heartbreaking. (Alex got into an accident and fell into a coma. When he awoke, he remembered nothing of his life, which prompted Marcus to leave out one distressing detail from their childhood.) I talked to Perkins about sexual abuse and survival.
45) The Art of Self-Defense: Filmmaker Riley Stearns had never considered himself very manly. Then he got into jiu-jitsu. Out of that experience came The Art of Self-Defense, a funny/sad look at a wimp (Jesse Eisenberg) who joins a freaky dojo. I interviewed Stearns, who has lots of thoughts about masculinity, sports movies and that time in childhood when he was the bully.
44) The Bunker: I pride myself on being very aware of what’s going on in movies. But until Isabelle Kohn’s profile of Joseph M. Monks, I’d never heard of The Bunker, billed as the first film directed by a blind person. An interesting question she asks him: What’s it like to make something that you’ll never be able to see?
43) Avengers: Endgame: The biggest movie of the year inspired lots of MEL pieces. I wrote about how the movie cheats death in unsatisfying ways. Myers profiled the brave souls trying to protect internet users from accidentally discovering Endgame spoilers. (And if that wasn’t enough, he also talked to a biophysicist about whether Ant-Man could kill Thanos by going into his ass.) Covering the health angle, Ian Lecklitner wondered how moviegoers could avoid cramps while sitting through the three-hour film. (He also did an investigation into how long it took Thor to get fat.) MEL art director and resident astrologer Erin Taj figured out what each Avenger’s sign would be. (I’m such a Gamora.) And then there was VanHooker, who crazily signed up for Marvel’s 59-hour marathon of all the MCU films. Thankfully, he did not die: “I’ll say that neither my biggest fears nor my highest expectations were realized. There was no smell, thanks to AMC’s killer ventilation, and also no hallucinations. I did see a guy who was painted purple like Thanos walking in when I was leaving, but I’m fairly certain he was real.” The aftereffects were pretty rough, though.
42) Hail Satan?: In honor of the documentary about the Satanic Temple, writer Keith Phipps offered a history of the devil at the movies. We love you, Rosemary’s Baby.
41) Dirty Rotten Scoundrels: The Hustle was billed as a female-flip of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, so I decided to rewatch the Steve Martin-Michael Caine comedy. Happy to report, it’s still great.
40) Who Framed Roger Rabbit: “I created Jessica [Rabbit] to be the girl I would have dated if I could have dated a girl.” Myers dove deep into the history of Who Framed Roger Rabbit’s seductive femme fatale.
39) Knives Out: Pretty perverse to release this anti-family whodunit during Thanksgiving, when most folks are stuck with their kin. I looked at how Knives Out continued filmmaker Rian Johnson’s great theme: the impossibility of community.
38) Memory: The Origins of Alien: Alexandre O. Philippe’s documentary looks back at the making of Ridley Scott’s scary sci-fi masterpiece. In a really smart piece, Keith Phipps wondered why we’re endlessly fascinated by behind-the-scenes info on our favorite films.
37) 1917: War is hell, and also a video game.
36) The Farewell: Sometimes, a good movie inspires a lovely personal piece. Eddie Kim used The Farewell as a jumping-off point for his own complicated feelings of guilt as a millennial immigrant — and then it dovetails into a conversation with other Asians about their families.
35) Fatal Attraction: In February, it looked like Glenn Close was finally going to win an Oscar for her work in The Wife. (Turns out, she lost to The Favourite’s Olivia Colman.) But I took the opportunity to look back on the role that’s among her most defining, that of Alex Forrest, the mistress who goes berserk in Fatal Attraction. This was one of my favorite pieces this year, examining how the movie — and the character — has haunted viewers ever since.
33) Cold Case Hammarskjöld: In 1961, U.N. Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld’s plane went down. Was it an accident or murder? Documentary filmmaker Mads Brügger decided to investigate, and what came out was a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction portrait of a possible cover-up. I’m still not sure if I can believe Cold Case Hammarskjöld, but I loved interviewing Brügger, who’s a deeply eccentric individual.
32) Waves: “I stupidly didn’t realize how much all my movies are about family. But yeah, I’m clearly fascinated by them.” Writer-director Trey Edward Shults talked to me about his latest drama, Waves, and how he turns real life into art.
31) BlacKkKlansman: One of the year’s happiest moments was when Spike Lee finally — finally — won an Oscar. Zaron recapped the master filmmaker’s many previous Academy Award snubs, and what it says about racial progress in this country.
30) Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened: The Fyre Festival was an infamous disaster, so you’d assume any documentary about the debacle would be rich in schadenfreude. Instead, Chris Smith’s film is meticulous about laying out exactly what went wrong, and why. I spoke to Smith, who feels very confident we haven’t heard the last from promoter/scammer Billy McFarland.
29) Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street: This documentary about Mark Patton, the hero of Nightmare on Elm Street 2, has been traveling the festival circuit getting strong reviews wherever it plays. C. Brian Smith looked back at the divisive horror film, which ruined Patton’s career because of the movie’s homosexual overtones. “I was a young actor following directions and didn’t realize what I sounded like until it tagged me as a homo,” Patton told Smith. “As a man in 1985, there was an understanding that the one thing you should never be is weak, and [my character] was very weak.” Fascinating piece.
28) Jawline: This bittersweet documentary focuses on Austyn, a teen social-media influencer who’s about to learn how competitive that world is. I spoke to filmmaker Liza Mandelup, who got to know Austyn and other influencers. What was most interesting about our chat was how boy broadcasters peddle positivity as personal brands, catering to fangirls who crush on them in an asexual way.
27) Toy Story 4: I love this franchise, even though it’s really about death.
26) Until the End of the World: Nearly 30 years after its initial release, in a truncated form, Wim Wenders’ almost-five-hour extended edition of Until the End of the World finally made its way to Criterion. Keith Phipps mused about our continued fascination with director’s cuts.
25) The Wolf of Wall Street:
No joke, read this story.
24) Big: Yeah, of course, it’s a great movie… but did Tom Hanks’ character do it or what?
23) Face/Off: The news that Hollywood might remake this 1997 action hit made Miles very, very sad. He channeled his grief and rage into an essay on what made Face/Off so amazing when it came out — and why it’s still batshit great.
22) Die Hard 2: Did you ever wonder what air-traffic controllers think of this John McClane sequel? Probably not, but I’m so glad VanHooker asked a few of ‘em.
21) Midnight Family: “Mexico’s a country where 60 percent of the population makes a living in some sort of informal economy. More than half of the country is making work for themselves.” Luke Lorentzen, the director of the documentary Midnight Family, chronicled one of the most unlikely father-son operations: a private ambulance in the heart of Mexico City. I interviewed Lorentzen to talk about what life is like being surrounded by death.
20) The Little Mermaid: You’ve heard the story: If you look closely at the poster of The Little Mermaid, you can see, ahem, a penis. OMG! But as VanHooker explains, we’ve all been obsessed with finding dicks in Disney films for years. (Also, props to VanHooker for asking Little Mermaid animator Philo Barnhart if he drew the poster penis.)
19) Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood: This Oscar contender catches Quentin Tarantino in a wistful mood — maybe because he’s pondering retirement? Meanwhile, Miles had a simple request: Tarantino, please stop making a foot fetish weird. (Miles also spent a little time pondering Brad Pitt as the last great good-looking white leading man.) But Zaron was in a far more serious frame of mind, focusing on one of the filmmaker’s most troubling tendencies: “As a storyteller, he loves to use men of color to measure white cool.”
18) Pain and Glory: I swear I’m not making this up. So, I met with Pedro Almodóvar to talk about his fine new movie and how it does something rare, depict a character going through physical pain. I knew that was a quality shared by Almodóvar, who’s had bad back issues. We had a good conversation… and then two days later, I started developing back problems. They’ve been going on for nearly two months now. Did Almodóvar curse me?
17) El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie: I really dug this.
16) Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse: Is this Oscar-winning film a secret stoner classic? Nathan Rabin thinks so — and he makes the case that it’s just the latest kid-friendly superhero stoner movie.
15) The Sixth Sense: This movie is best known for its twist, but on the occasion of its 20th anniversary, I decided to pay tribute to Bruce Willis, who’s terrific as Malcolm, a celebrated child psychologist. “When you watch the film now, its tragedy is even more apparent,” I wrote. “This is a story about pride and blindness. It’s about a good man so dedicated to his job that he starts to lose sight of the bigger picture. It’s about someone so consumed with his own issues he misses everything else — including the fact that he’s dead.” Yup, The Sixth Sense is a cautionary tale about workaholism.
14) Ad Astra: Seriously, call your dad.
13) Joker: What if the dude who made The Hangover directed a thoughtful, gripping super-villain origin story? Seems impossible to believe, but that’s exactly what Todd Phillips achieved with Joker. Not that this movie should encourage you to dress up like the Joker. And while we’re at it, maybe you shouldn’t visit the South Bronx just to take a picture of the “Joker stairs.” Oh, and don’t illegally download the movie, you jerks.
12) The Lighthouse: This Cannes hit starred Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe as lighthouse keepers who go stark raving mad. But as I argued back in October, this dark psychological horror film is also a fantastic comedy about having a shitty roommate.
11) Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: Fifty years after its debut, this buddy comedy is still the perfect example of how Hollywood celebrates male characters who don’t change. Keith Phipps explored the tendency in fascinating detail, providing an overview of some of cinema’s greatest unbending men.
10) Deliverance: America has never gotten over the male rape scene in this 1972 thriller. Instead, we’ve made a lot of jokes and parodies. In one of my favorite pieces of 2019, I did an exhaustive cultural legacy of “that scene.”
9) Marriage Story: God, this movie broke my heart, specifically in how it depicts the divorce-industrial complex. But once Marriage Story hit Netflix, there was a backlash against those who went gaga over the acting, which prompted Miles to write about what happens when fanboys get their first taste of “serious” drama. (But come on, Miles, we can never get enough Adam Driver in our lives.)
8) The Irishman: What does it mean that Martin Scorsese, in his late 70s, has made one of his very best films? I wrote about that — and then I sat back and marveled at Joseph Longo, who asked beauty influencers to improve The Irishman’s de-aging effects.
7) Little Women: If you’re a guy who thinks this is a chick flick, I will fight you.
6) Parasite: “There’s no shortage of recent movies and TV shows that critique the one-percent, with everything from Ready or Not to Joker to Hustlers to Succession portraying the rich as soulless monsters. But in the superb new film Parasite, our hate-watch obsession with the wealthy is presented with a twist. Director Bong Joon Ho argues that money is never a thing anyone has — it’s always a thing you’re chasing. And when you’re not chasing money, you’re after the status you think it’s going to give you.” I had a lot to say about the movie that, by general acclamation, is considered 2019’s best.
5) Leaving Neverland: Easily the most upsetting film of the year, this documentary (which profiles two young men who claim Michael Jackson sexually assaulted them as boys) had clear parallels to another Sundance doc, the aforementioned Untouchable. I wrote about why Jackson and Weinstein were perfect monsters.
4) Uncut Gems: The feel-tense film of the year was highlighted by Adam Sandler’s exceptional performance. I wrote about the genius of his portrayal. (Fingers crossed he somehow lands an Oscar nomination.)
3) The Godfather: Miles made a convincing argument that we’ve never fully appreciated Fredo Corleone. In fact, maybe it’s time to think of him as more than just “the dumb brother.”
2) Die Hard: Is John McClane a modern-day cowboy? I made the case — and did a deep dive on the character’s deathless catch phrase, “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker.”
1) Election: Tradition versus change. The status quo versus gender equality. Trump versus Hillary. Twenty years after its release, the magnificent Election remains a landmark comedy that, shockingly, predicted our current political discourse. Getting to write about this movie was a pleasure — interviewing director Alexander Payne about its lasting legacy was even more of a treat.