In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it.
Originally posted on Cinema76.
It’s a little bit late for this sort of thing, but for the sake of posterity I wanted to get my Best of 2019 Thus Far” list out in print. Granted, I’ve seen a few movies since this list was locked down, and a few of them would have certainly changed around my entries considerably (Midsommar, I’m looking in your direction), but that is what end of year lists are for. Plus, I wanted to make sure this remained congruent with our latest episode of I Like to Movie Movie, where a handful of Cinema76ers shared their lists alongside my own.
A few small caveats:
I tend to leave superhero movies off my lists. I don’t know why, but both Endgame and Shazam were fantastic.
Destroyer got lost between years, and you should absolutely drop everything and go watch it now.
These are movies that I enjoyed in the moment, which stuck with me, and which have made me think. I am not saying these are the objective best, just my favorites.
10. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (dir. Joe Berlinger)
I struggle with my seemingly unquenchable desire for true crime media. It’s so entertaining to me, but this entertainment comes at the highest of costs: someone had to die in order for it to exist. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is the first true crime movie to reckon with such a notion, albeit indirectly. By not directlytelling the story of Bundy’s murders, instead focusing on a woman so afraid to believe the idea that her significant other is a monster that she’s willing to believe every ounce of his self-serving bullshit in its stead, this Lifetime-esque drama scratches my true crime itch without feeling exploitative. It’s also a career best for Zac Enron. Yes, even more than Baywatch.
lol jk Baywatch smells.
9. Velvet Buzzsaw (dir. Dan Gilroy)
Gilroy is three for three for me. He just knows how to get greatness out of his performers, and what a cast he’s assembled for his latest! No one is safe from pretentiousness in the art world, and now there’s a supernatural threat added to it. Gilroy is telling a story of the creative business from within, and nobody in his reach is safe. From creator to consumer and everyone in between, Velvet Buzzsaw has got a skewer for them all. See also: Body horror.
We are in the throes of Gyllenhaal’s “I’m digging deep into bizarre stuff” phase and it’s incredible.
8. Wild Rose (dir. Tom Harper)
Like A Star is Born, but better. Jessie Buckley, a performer plucked from obscurity via a European televised talent show, plays a young Glasgow woman with dreams of becoming the next country music star. She’s got the talent and the drive, but her opportunity is severely lacking. Wild Rose subverts all expectations, delivering an honest, deeply moving tale that brings a realist angle to the “follow your dreams” template, without losing the thread that you absolutely should follow your dreams. Buckley is the future.
7. One Cut of the Dead (dir. Shin’chirô Ueda)
I don’t know if this can truly be considered a 2019 movie, but I don’t care. It received American release just this year (after a mistake of some sort placed a bootleg of it on Amazon Prime in late 2018), and that’s all that matters. Plus, this movie rules. It is a love letter to the collaborative nature of film, which warms my heart to no end. Go into it blind. Read nothing. In fact, don’t even read this, just go to the next entry.
6. Dragged Across Concrete (dir. S. Craig Zahler)
Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that S. Craig Zahler is a filmmaker disinterested in broad appeal. Yet, his idiosyncratic movies have undoubtedly found it. In a cinematic world dominated by corporate franchising, it’s always nice to see a filmmaker unwilling to compromise, and getting/making the opportunity to put their vision out there. Zahler’s latest is once again a genre derivative that feels wholly its own. The dialogue pops from beginning to end — it has to, the film is nearly three hours long. But such a behemoth running time is never an issue, it all goes down like hot toddy made with cheap whiskey. A star making performance from Tory Kittles.
5. Her Smell (dir. Alex Ross Perry)
Elisabeth Moss is potentially the best actress of her generation (Andy first placed this idea in my head, and I’m starting to really dig it), and if anyone doubts it, look no further than Her Smell. She plays Becky Something, a Courtney Love-esque musician whose dark, fucked up, addicted lifestyle grew out of the fact that she’s a legitimately brilliant musician. But times are a-changing, and she must learn to change with them. Told over a series of five extended single location vignettes, and propelled by an incredible soundtrack, this mashup of Boogie Nights and The Runaways is unmissable. A perfect film.
4. The Art of Self-Defense (dir. Riley Stearns)
Riley Stearns is one of the most exciting voices in film. The closest approximation to his work would be that of Jody Hill, but even that isn’t accurate. Stearns does dark, deadpan humor with the best of them, but his filmmaking adds another layer of hilarious discomfort to every shot. You know when someone is standing too close to you and they don’t realize it but you’re too polite to reclaim your personal space? Stearns captures that through the duration of this bizarre little film. Jesse Eisenberg plays a meek man who begins taking karate lessons after a brutal mugging. Needless to say, he takes to the world of martial arts like a moth to a flame. Unfortunately for him (and for the world at large), the egos at the center of this new world are more malicious than they seem from the outside. At a time where we are working to understand patriarchal forces in our society, The Art of Self-Defense cracks them wide open from the inside and makes them darkly hilarious. Faults, Stearns’ previous film studies the hold that a radical community can have over a member. His latest studies why radical communities can be so alluring in the first place. Alessandro Nivola gives my favorite performance of the year so far.
3. The Beach Bum (dir. Harmony Korine)
Easily Korine’s most accessible and downright funniest film. Don’t let the candy colored looks fool you however. The Beach Bum is fucked up. Matthew McConaughey is in the role that he was BORN TO PLAY as Moondog, the pickled poet whose prior success gives him license to live in a completely hedonistic world free of restrictions. When disaster strikes, it’s up to Moondog to grow…or not. Martin Lawrence rolls through as a grifter turned dolphin tour captain whose loved for dolphins is matched only by his complete lack of knowledge as to what constitutes a dolphin. This madcap sequence alone is worth whatever you need to pay in order to see it. Can be taken as an empty comedy or as the most incisive look at the ease through which capitalism can be corrupted. Your choice.
2. Rocketman (dir. Dexter Fletcher)
After Walk Hard was so good that it ruined the musical biopic forever and Bohemian Rhapsody played the same satirical formula cluelessly straight, I was ready to roll my eyes at Rocketman. I didn’t have to. Perhaps the finest musical biopic ever made, this toe-tapping masterpiece gains artistic license through its self-identification of being a “true fantasy.” Fletcher does not lean on this, however. Instead he uses it to evoke raw emotional truth, plot accuracy be-damned. Taron Edgerton is an atom bomb.
1. Us (dir. Jordan Peele)
The man who kicked off the latest horror wave had only his own gigantic shoes to fill with his second film. Consider the sophomore slump to effectively be a creature of myth. Jordan Peele’s unsettling, pointed, often hilarious new classic is so thematically dense that three viewings in I’m still finding newer and deeper resonance in the strangest areas. Literally every line speaks to at least one of the countless social themes being explored here. Above all else, it’s a total banger of a horror movie, filled wall to wall with pitch perfect performances, most being done by actors pulling double duty. Peele has elevated the genre once again while displaying considerable growth as a craftsman. He’s also created a new horror icon in the form of a red jumpsuit and golden scissors. Alongside Freddy and Jason you can now count The Tethered. All seven billion of them.