Saturday, January 4, 2020

Signal Watch 2019 Subjective Opinion Movie Awards - 2019! (The Mellies!)

We've already shared the breakdown of all the movies we watched last year, so now it's time to talk about some of our favorite things and to drag some movies we maybe didn't like all that much.

We don't just talk about movies that came out in 2019, we try to talk about all the "new to me" movies we saw, and maybe a special selection or three of movies we'd seen before, but which deserve special mention.

The Mellies are nominated by and voted upon by the only opinion that matters:  mine.  They are also not reflective of the panoply of films released in any given year - because I may watch a lot of movies, but I don't have that kind of time.  And, honestly, I'm just not that interested in a whole lot of what comes out.

Worst Movies 2019

We're not including movies that we watched via MST3K episodes or Rifftrax - that's just missing the point.  However, we are including movies we heard might not be very good, but we watched anyway.

Some movies I knew would be, uh, not great going in (see: The Knight Before Christmas.  Or.  Do not.), but even some of the "this is not going to be good" intentional selections deserve special meritorious mention.  For example...

Jaws the Revenge - a sequel that never, ever should have happened, and which takes the very straightforward plot of a Jaws film, adds scheming sharks and psychic powers for both sharks and widows.  It does have Michael Caine, so, bonus points where they're due.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters - a movie that recycles dialog from late 90's summer blockbusters, refuses to make any human characters more than a stock "type" or even likeable - its gravest sin is that it treats the worldwide threat of kaiju attacks more like a weather event than characters doing a thing, right up to the film's finale which has monsters fighting in the background while parents wander around yelling for their lost kid.  This was very bad, indeed.

Hellboy - a low-budget reboot of a beloved franchise that could have kept going, this Hellboy apparently crams much of the lore of the comics I've never read into a movie that feels like a SyFy movie that doesn't know it's kidding.  I know people like this movie.  I am sorry - this is a bad movie.

John Wick 3 - the right movie for people who don't know the difference between the narrative structure of a video game and how a story or movie is supposed to work.

Look, I've seen two John Wick movies.  The fantasy world of lucrative murder in which the movies exist is just kinda not my bag/ dumb as all hell.  And if you know your hero is not going to die (unironically and utterly improbably), there's no tension, and no point to watching anything occur - but people also watch morons playing video games on YouTube by the millions, so what do I know?  Really, this movie is an exercise in "throw one guy at a time at our hero" over and over and over, paired with what is supposed to be stylish set dress, but looks like what guys who wear trucker caps and gold chains think equals "classy".

Lifeforce - I have no idea what they were thinking.  None.

Worst Movie 2019

Cats - No real shocker here.  This critically abused movie had something for everyone to hate.  Horrifying CGI and a mockery of natural life in both the feline and human forms.  A terrible story that turned the whisper of a plot from the play into a gameshow where the prize is death.  Adding unnecessary dialog and a song, whose goal seems to be to undercut the strength of "Memory" - the calling card for the play for something like 40 years.  Shouting "Miiiillllk!" into the lens, like this is a decision that works.  The nightmare of a cat in red lederhosen and a handlebar mustache tap dancing relentlessly.  And just flat out refusing to end.

But - give it a shot!  You'll find your own things to hate, from the actual music from the original stage show to cats in sneakers.

And just to add insult to injury, there's actually about six minutes of brilliance between Ian McKellan's sequence and Jennifer Hudson singing.  And then - back to garbage fire.  And somehow, that just makes it worse.

Best Movies 2019

So, in a year of 205 movies, and 114 "new to me" movies, what did I like best?  What criteria do I use?  Generally if I'm still thinking about a movie - in a positive way - even days after I saw it, that's a very good sign.  This isn't the only criteria - but it's a start.  

Special Mentions - 2019

I can't put everything on a "best of" list, because that's weird, so let's cheat with a "Special Mentions" section.

The Mist - special mention for one of the best horror movies I've seen, and because it seems this movie is underseen, and you'd probably dig it.

The Lost Weekend - I mean, it's a famous movie for a reason.  This is a tough but very good movie.

Can You Ever Forgive Me?  - not my usual cup of tea, but a solid story and both McCarthy and Grant are amazing.

Captain Marvel - I still get a big, dumb grin on my face when I think about this movie.  So much great stuff built into the movie - from the cosmic to the ridiculously mundane, and Brie Larson's take is pitch perfect.  A new spin on superheroes and a finale that hit all the right notes.

Border Incident - A fantastic noir drama about the exploitation of migrant labor on the Mexico/ US border with a terrific lead part for Ricardo Montelban.

The Sea Wolf - drama at sea with Edward G. Robinson, John Garfield and Ida Lupino (and, somehow, not a noir, even with that cast).

The Stranger - Orson Welles as... well, I won't spoil it.

Ernie & Joe: Crisis Cops - an amazing look at the work done by police officers in the Mental Health Unit of the San Antonio Police Department.  I'll be thinking about this movie for years.

The actual "Ryan liked these best" movies

As probably indicated by the long list of "Special Mentions", it was a good year, but I didn't come in to this exercise thinking "Oh, I'll be writing about Movie X for my favorite film of the year".  Looking over the list is a bit overwhelming in many ways.

The Shall Not Grow Old - Peter Jackson used archival footage of WWI, interpolated the frame rate to 24fps, and lightly colorized the film.  He assembled audio from oral histories of WWI survivors and created a sort of composite event from the footage and testimony to bring the voices and faces of the past into the present.  A stunning technical achievement.

The Hitch-Hiker - I'd rather be talking Ida Lupino tearing up the screen in Private Hell 36, but she directed the hell out of this noir hijacking story that's a white-knuckler to the very end.  Hell of a film.

Frozen II - I don't know what I was expecting for a second installment of a movie ostensibly for children, but I believe the crew working on Frozen are aiming for the fences in the all-ages category and landing it with everything they're doing.  The movie is an artistic achievement both visually and musically.

Knives Out - this movie sets itself some goals for itself as a traditional sort of closed-room mystery, and manages to exceed those expectations.  It is a goddamn delight.

The Letter - Bette Davis, gorgeous cinematography and a fantastic plot.  That is all.

Just know... I'll completely reconsider everything on these lists in the coming days.

Favorite of the Year - 2019

I guess my favorite movie of the year is probably pretty obvious:

Avengers: Endgame - I'll be honest, I was sort of expecting for Marvel to bobble Endgame.  Hitting this age and having had watched as many franchise pictures as we've all seen, we're aware that a final installment can hit the last fifty minutes and wind up as a lot of CGI lights, booming music, last second switcheroos and a sort of oddly unsatisfying ending to the very long story we've followed for some great length of time (see: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker).    But at the end of the day, Marvel knew that it lives and dies by characters, and the rest is set dressing.

I'm aware there are still plenty of people out there who sniff at superhero movies.  I get that some people can't or won't see that Marvel comics spent decades refining characters enough to give Feige and Co. stories and characters they could reconstruct into dramas, melodramas, comedies, and name-your-genre - but with genuine characters as tangible as in anything else.

Endgame was oddly poignant,  and a reminder of what hope and heroism look like in face of grief and relentlessly bad odds.  Not many movies can earn the signature cards we got at the end of Endgame, but after 20-odd movies, Feige and company surely earned this indulgence after pulling off one of the biggest gambles in cinema history and finishing stronger than anyone ever envisioned, and kept the conflicts both cosmic and personal right to the last finger snap.

In Conclusion

Honestly, I think it's weird I wasn't looking at the list of noir film and seeing a ton that jumped out at me.  Most of what I saw that was "new to me" wasn't a Sunset Boulevard or Third Man or Night and the City.  But I think that's reflective of the year - I had a great time at the movies at the theater, watching at home and watching as homework for the PodCast.  My feelings on movies were kind of all over the place, and I know I'd likely see something new to like or dislike in many-a-movie if I were to re-watch them.

And I know in the year where Scorsese keeps getting asked why he doesn't like Marvel movies and I haven't even gotten around to finding 4 hours to watch The Irishman, this all looks ridiculous.  But, here we are.  You knew what you were getting when you read this list.

Feel free to argue and quibble.  Tell me why Cats is underrated.  Why Lured was the best noir ever and should have gotten a nod.  This is just me talking, so talk back!


RHPT said...

I just read this quote by Caine about Jaws 4 (I'm sure you know of it, but I think it's hilarious): "I have never seen it, but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific.”

The League said...

This tells me you never listen to the PodCast.

RHPT said...

I forgot you did an episode on Jaws 4. I admit I don't catch all of the episodes. Only so much time, etc.

Paul Toohey said...

You should see Parasite.

Irishman was too long. BY a couple hours.

The League said...

it's not a requirement to listen, but do expect - if there's Michael Caine AND a shark in a movie - there's a much higher than non-zero chance we've got a podcast.

Also - I plan to watch Parasite when it its Streaming.

Groboclown said...

I must quibble. How can you hateon a film like Lifeforce? Space vampires! Patrick Stewart! Bizzare story! I find it pretty fun.

The League said...

Good question, Groboclown. And, in a way, I did enjoy watching it. But, I mean - it doesn't bring me the joy of, say, StarCrash, and is too weirdly pretentious to be at all aware of what a mess it is. I think by the time we hit "oh, now London is full of zombies", I was maxed out on whatever it was they were selling. But, yeah, I get the simple joy of "well, this is ridiculous".