Watson Ranks the Top Movies of 2019

By William Watson

Another year has come and gone, so it is time to rank all the movies I saw from 2019.  This was a year that saw a couple of trends start to change the way we experience movies.

First, the growing importance of tentpole franchises started to wear thin.  Sure, there were massive hits like the MCU and the live action remakes of classic Disney cartoons, but franchises like Terminator, Godzilla, and Men in Black all crashed and burned at the box office.  Simply wrapping up the same present again and again was no longer a guarantee of box office success.

The second trend, a positive one for an avid moviegoer like me, was the growth of top quality films debuting (or soon after a brief Oscar run at the theaters) on streaming services like Netflix.  In past years, we had gotten a handful of moderately interesting films, but this year it was different.  Two of my top ten were streaming first runs and two more from my second ten were beamed right to my couch.

The growth of quality streaming films, generally smarter and more adult in nature, seems to be the answer to the growing tide of dumb franchise movies that no one asked for.  More and more, I could see the kind of movies that once lit up the big screen, the mid-budget film, coming to Netflix.  I will be happy to watch them there!

Time to jump right into the list!

Top Ten

10. ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

I enjoyed this Tarantino entry at the theater, but it really improved on second viewing. DiCaprio and Pitt were incredible as a pair of Hollywood castoffs struggling to regain very different levels of success.  DiCaprio is excellent, but Pitt as the less successful member of this duo really shines in a fresh way that reminded me of first seeing him on that stairwell in Thelma and Louise; realizing he was going to be a superstar.

9. DOLEMITE IS MY NAME

Eddie is back, baby! This Netflix first run really did it for me. The comedy and wit are Murphy at his best, but what distinguishes this as Murphy’s best live action film since the 80s was how he captured Rudy Ray Moore’s desperate desire to be something bigger; chasing his dream no matter the cost. It was his maniacal drive to succeed that carried every scene in the film. I hope Murphy gets in the running for an Oscar nod, because this is his smartest performance ever.

8. THE TWO POPES

Another excellent Netflix movie!  This story elegantly explains (hypothesizes?) how the first volunteer living handover of the papacy in nearly 700 years went down! Both Pryce and Hopkins are amazing in this biopic that slips from comedy to utter human tragedy scene by scene.

7.JOKER

Sometimes the reactions to films surprise me. Joker was one movie where I read it completely wrong. An arthouse film about a villain? Lower budget? No SFX? I figured this one would do well with the critics and under-perform with the fans at the box office? Flash forward, and the movie does over $300m domestically/$1B globally and yet has mixed results from the critics who seemingly let their views on the role of violence in society interfere with their analysis of the film; which frustrates me. This movie was raw and nasty and brutal. So is life. I am not a Joaquin Phoenix fan but he really did shine as a man beat down by the world’s cruelty to the point he leans into his pre-existing mania. He is definitely a front runner for Best Actor and the film should be considered for Best Picture.

6. UNCUT GEMS

Though they force me to go for a jog after seeing them, I love movies that practically give me a panic attack while watching.  Uncut Gems does just that.  The pace is frantic from the very beginning, and never lets up.  Adam Sandler, who had his best sophomoric comedy in years, Murder Mystery, puts in his best dramatic performance ever.  Such an intense and captivating movie.

5. SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME

A lot was riding on this movie; being the first post- Endgame MCU film. Would the massive events capping off the Infinity saga, which were depressing as hell, cast a pallor over the franchise? Complicating things even further is that Spider-Man is second only to Ant-Man in relying on comedy to make his movies work. Thank goodness for Tom Holland. Because of his excellent comedic timing and good nature personality, Holland was able to thread the needle of addressing the Earth shattering events of Endgame AND moving the franchise forward to a more normal place. I was thrilled when Sony and Disney settled their squabbles so we will see more of Holland in the MCU. He’s a very welcome addition.

4. FORD V. FERRARI

In lesser hands, this could have been a perfectly adequate biopic. But in the hands of James Mangold, director of an all-time favorite in Logan, we get a very intense and special character study. Matt Damon is amazing as the anxiety plagued ex-superstar but it is Christian Bale who finds yet another gear (giggle) as the angry never was looking for his shot at glory. Bale continues to prove that he is far and away one of the best and most versatile actors of his generation. Like his co-star’s turn in the Martian, Bale is often required to perform alone in the most important scenes. Acting by yourself, as Bale does masterfully in his race sequences, is a very challenging thing. Bale makes it look easy.

3. PARASITE

I know. I know. You’ve never heard of this movie and think I am a nerd because I have seen a Korean arthouse flick. Screw you! This movie was amazing. It was horroresque thriller with a ton of dark comedy laced in for good measure. Parasite tells the story of a down on their luck family who attach themselves to a 0.1% family in order to rise out of poverty. The movie is enjoyable start to finish, but the payoff is even better.

2. KNIVES OUT

In any other year, this would be the top film of the year. This movie hits the Watson sweet spot of black comedy, big cast of famous people, and a parlour room murder mystery. Daniel Craig was anything but Bond and chewed the scenery for two hours, but it was lesser known Ana de Armas who really leads the film with her earnest performance. I liked this movie a little extra because it was one of the few non-sequel/remake/franchise films of the year… but now I want to see a sequel featuring Craig and de Armas so they can turn this into a new franchise. Maybe that’s why we get so many of them…

WATSON’S FILM OF THE YEAR!

1. AVENGERS: ENDGAME

Stuck…the…landing! This was an amazing film even as a standalone. Great characterization. Great action. Great special effect. More importantly, it didn’t dumb down the geekiness with a fairly complex time travel storyline; so complex Ryan didn’t even understand it! This film really stands on its own two feet, but gets special credit as the capper to a decade long run of 20+ films. As Game of Thrones showed us, its not easy to end an epic run, but Endgame got the job done. Marvel will go on, but this really is the end of an era. This film, which I have re-watched nearly ten times since it came out in April, has moved into my all-time top five.

FILMS 11-20

Overall, I was pleased with the Top Ten, as they were a solid bunch. For the second year in a row, though, the next ten includes some films that would have been more middling in past years.  Let’s go one click deeper and look at the rest of the top 20!

11. MARRIAGE STORY

Oh, Netflix! You are finally home for movie fans as well as TV buffs! Instead of having to go to Regal Arbor and sit in an old school theater with chatty senior citizens to watch this Oscar darling, I sat on my couch an pushed play. Amazing! The film plays on the same grounds as the 80’s not-so-classic, Irreconcilable Differences. Let’s pause to recognize that I may be the only person to remember that movie despite it starring Shelly Long, Ryan O’Neill, Drew Barrymore, and introducing Sharon Stone. Though it ultimately rated high on my list, Marriage Story is tough to evaluate. It’s impressive and the performances are spectacular…but it exists solely to win awards. And it probably should get Adam Driver a Best Actor statue and maybe even ScarJo! They were both amazing.

12. RICHARD JEWELL

Eastwood may have gone a little goofy over the years, talking to empty chairs and what not, but damn if the man doesn’t know how to deliver a smart film with amazing performances. This could have been higher, but Eastwood let a modern sense of politics bleed into the film that hurt the script. I am all for past settings speaking to modern events (MASH was about Viet Nam, not Korea) but the commentary needs to flow well and not get in the way. A couple of scenes hit a blip because of it, but not enough to keep the film from being excellent.

13. HONEYBOY

Who would have thought Shia Lebouf would have such an amazing year? He was spectacular in this semi-autobiographical tale of a child star raised by a demanding and unstable parent.If he wasn’t such a weirdo, he’d be getting award buzz.

14. DARK WATERS

Mark Ruffalo crushes it in this small but important film about the dangers of big business owning the government. The film tells the true story of a defense attorney who flips sides to sue the very industry that he once defended.  It will miss award consideration, but should at least be an honorable mention…

15. US

While not as good as Jordan Peele’s debut, Get Out, this was still a smart and creepy film that had a point to make.  When I saw the movie in the theaters, I was sure Lupita Nyong’o was a shoe-in for an Oscar nomination; but I worry now that it might have come out too long ago and she could get overlooked for her brilliant dual role.

16. JOJO RABBIT

When Hitler is your imaginary friend, you know you have some lessons to learn if you want to be the protagonist of a Hollywood arthouse film. Through comedy and amazing drama, Takiki Watitit takes us there.An odd but interesting dramedy.

17. SHAZAM!

One of my favorite superheroes ever finally gets a big screen turn and it is fun and charming. Not a big budget blockbuster, but a solid family action-comedy instead. My favorite part is a big spoiler that I won’t mention, but it was the coolest surprise that is guaranteed to make the sequel a bigger film.

18. LITTLE WOMEN

I had oddly never read or seen any of the adaptations of Little Women before.  One of my literary blindspots…  This is not my milieu to be sure, but director Greta Gerwig and that amazing cast made me care about these women and connect to their struggles. Saorise Ronan was incredible as the free spirited Jo, but it is Florence Pugh who continues to have an amazing year in smaller films. Can’t wait to see her in Black Widow next year.

19. PEANUT BUTTER FALCON

More quality from Shia in a film that Jimmy says may not really exist.  Like the state of Delaware, or something… Add in a great performance from another performer I don’t like, Dakota Johnson, and you have a surprisingly good film. Of course, it was young Zack Gottsagen, as the down syndrome wrestling fan, that gives the movie all the heart.

20. THE REPORT

Driver is having a career year. Though his performance in Star Wars is getting the media attention, and his turn in Marriage Story is earning Oscar buzz, people shouldn’t overlook his portrayal of the Senate staffer who uncovered the abuses of the government in torturing prisoners in the War on Terror.  I saw this one on Amazon Prime after a short run at theaters.

BOTTOM TEN

But even more fun than the top 20?  The stinky bottom ten.  You see a lot of movies…you see a lot of stinkers.  I skipped a few flicks that could have been included, like Cats and Rambo, but that’s because this year I didn’t seek out movies just to add to the bottom.  Life is too hard as it is…

So let’s take a look at the stinky turds inhabit the Watson Bottom Ten!

10. THE HUSTLE

If you are going to remake a Michael Caine/Steve Martin Classic, can you at least get someone funny to play the roles? Anne Hathaway is not a comedic actress. Neither is Rebel Wilson…

9. IT: CHAPTER 2

I don’t love horror, so it surprised me how much I enjoyed Chapter 1. The second part, however, failed at every level. I wasn’t scared and the humor (though Bill Hader WAS hilarious) did not match the ominous tone. The only joy of this experience was seeing the exasperated looks on Halbrook and the Newmans’ faces as well… only to crack up when Ryan, sitting at the end of the row, revealed that of course he loved it!

8. THE DEAD DON’T DIE

The dead might not die, but my interest in this film quickly did. Surprisingly, I had not seen a Jim Jarmusch Film before, so this wasn’t a great introduction. What a waste of an amazing cast. The only thing I really liked about it was the Sturgill Simpson song and running joke surrounding it.

7. THE WANDERING EARTH

I love movies with international flavor. But when the flavor is Michael Bay meets Fast and the Furious, the flavor translates as shit. A top Ryan film of the year, naturally.

6. ISN’T IS ROMANTIC

What a great premise that could be mined for gold. Instead they mined dog shit, because this movie was dreadfully unfunny. I’m pretty much done with Rebel Wilson. She was funny in exactly one movie and the schtick has worn thin ever since. Rebel better be glad I missed Cats or she could have had another stinker at the bottom.

5. GLASS

I am in the geek minority that doesn’t like Unbreakable. Shaymalan twisted me again when he tricked me into liking a backdoor sequel, Split. This third installment in the Unbreakable trilogy was more like the latter than the former. Three amazing actors were wasted on a navel gazing, fanboy script.

4. HOBBES AND SHAW

Ugh. This movie was probably dumber than even the last F&F movie, which was the bottom of my list a couple of years ago. At least those movies only play in the dumbest of action genres and don’t tread over into the superhero and super spy milieu. Having these two idiots be crack secret agents instead of gearhead numbskulls (I know, his job was technically the same…) was like when they put David Hasselhoff as a P.I. in Baywatch Nights. So freaking dumb and makes me hate Ryan and Jimmy a little bit more…

3. GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS

I wasn’t a tremendous fan of the first one, but it had its moments. This one did not. It was boring start to finish. Even the monster scenes, the saving grace of the first installment, bored me to tears. How do you make giant monsters fighting a snoozefest? Baffling!

2. HELLBOY

I wasn’t the biggest fan of the Del Toro installments, but they were passably enjoyable. Good enough for a Saturday matinee. This film was not that good. This film shouldn’t be shown in maximum security prisons. It was sooooo bad! Only one scene, the giant fight, was worth paying attention to. This franchise was already on life support. Now its dead…

 1. X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX

I wasn’t one of those clamoring for a Disney/Marvel takeover of the X-Men franchise. Unlike other properties, I always thought Fox did the franchise justice with excellent mainstream entries like X2, First Class, and Days of Future Past . More impressive were the R-rated entries (Logan and the Deadpool movies) that Disney never would have greenlit. Sadly the last two efforts prove it might be fortunate that Disney bought Fox and will turn the characters over to Kevin Feige. This movie was really bad and we need to just hit the reset button. A total recast, starting with Sophie Turner who is not capable of carrying a tent pole, will liven things up a bit.

Final Thoughts

Though I thought the Top Ten was a really strong year for movies, the bottom ten was not as dreadful as other years.  Sure, these ten were legit dumpster fires, but even Dark Phoenix was no Holmes and Watson or god forbid, Mordecai!  Oddly, one film that got a lot of press that I thought was neither good nor bad to me was Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker.  I crushed The Last Jedi for different reasons than most fans who hated it…and I agreed with everything the critics trashed Skywalker  for, but I think I ended up liking this one moderately (it ranked #54 on my full list below) is because TLJ and Solo drove me to not really caring about Star Wars anymore.  It’s a sad indictment for the franchise that I liked this entry… because I didn’t care if it was good or bad.  I am starting to feel that way about a lot of franchises, so thank goodness for Netflix…

Full List

ALL-TIME GREATS

1 AVENGERS: ENDGAME
2 KNIVES OUT

EXCELLENT
3 PARASITE
4 FORD V. FERRARI
5 SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME
6 UNCUT GEMS
7 JOKER
8 THE TWO POPES

STRONG ENTRIES

9 DOLEMITE IS MY NAME
10 ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD
11 MARRIAGE STORY

VERY GOOD
12 RICHARD JEWELL
13 HONEYBOY
14 DARK WATERS
15 US
16 JOJO RABBIT
17 SHAZAM!
18 LITTLE WOMEN
19 PEANUT BUTTER FALCON
20 THE REPORT
21 HUSTLERS
22 BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD
23 ROCKETMAN
24 AMERICAN FACTORY
25 THE IRISHMAN
26 MIKE WALLACE IS HERE

GOOD MOVIES
27 HARRIETT
28 WHERE’S MY ROY COHN?
29 PAIN AND GLORY
30 WOODSTOCK
31 BRITTANY RUNS A MARATHON
32 WHERE’D YOU GO BERNADETTE?
33 GOOD BOYS
34 ECHO IN THE CANYON
35 TELL ME WHO I AM
36 THE FAREWELL
37 PAVAROTTI
38 THE LAUNDROMAT
39 THE UPSIDE
40 EL CAMINO
41 ZOMBIELAND 2: DOUBLE TAP
42 BOOKSMART
43 ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE
44 FROZEN 2
45 YESTERDAY
46 BLINDED BY THE LIGHT
47 KLAUS
48 LATE NIGHT
49 LONGSHOT

DECENT FLICKS
50 ALADDIN
51 LION KING
52 TOY STORY 4
53 JUDY
54 STAR WARS: RISE OF SKYWALKER
55 QUEEN & SLIM
56 AD ASTRA
57 ANNA
58 GLORIA BELL
59 CAPTAIN MARVEL
60 THE HIGHWAYMEN
61 ASK DOCTOR RUTH
62 GAME OF THRONES: THE LAST WATCH
63 JOHN WICK 3
64 APOLLO 11
65 FYRE
66 CAPTIVE STATE
67 THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO
68 POKEMON: DETECTIVE PIKACHU
69 THE INVENTOR: OUT FOR BLOOD IN SILICON VALLEY

NOT A WASTE OF TIME
70 BLACK AND BLUE
71 THE DIRT
72 THE KING
73 GEMINI MAN
74 BRIGHTBURN
75 INSIDE THE EDGE
76 SEE YOU YESTERDAY
77 I LOST MY BODY
78 THE AERONAUTS
79 THE BIG HACK
80 DORA THE EXPLORER
81 JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL
82 SHAFT
83 LUCE
84 FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY
85 DIEGO MARADANO
86 KNOCK DOWN THE HOUSE
87 SINATRA IN PALM SPRINGS

IF YOU HAVE SPARE TIME
88 THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING
89 TRIPLE FRONTIER
90 THE LAST LAUGH
91 ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL
92 ESCAPE ROOM
93 EXTREMELY WICKED SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE
94 TEEN TITANS GO VS TEEN TITANS
95 TERMINATOR: DARK FATE
96 BEST OF ENEMIES
97 MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL
98 STUBER
99 WHAT MEN WANT
100 MA
101 BETWEEN TWO FERNS
102 EARTHQUAKE BIRD
103 6 UNDERGROUND
104 CRAWL
105 BATMAN: HUSH
106 THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT

GETTING A LITTLE TEDIOUS
107 LEAGUE OF LEGENDS- ORIGINS
108 JUSTICE LEAGUE VS THE FATAL FIVE
109 GUAVA ISLAND
110 THE LEGEND OF COCAINE ISLAND
111 HIGH LIFE
112 THE UNICORN STORE
113 MURDER MYSTERY
114 BLACKHAWK DOWN: THE REAL STORY
115 ONE CHILD NATION
116 SHARKWATER EXTINCTION
117 HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 3
118 LEGO MOVIE 2
119 REIGN OF THE SUPERMEN

I’M GETTING A HEADACHE
120 SERENITY
121 WINE COUNTRY
122 REPLICAS
123 POLAR
124 ROCKETMAN: MADE MIKE’s MISSION TO PROVE THE FLAT EARTH
125 IN THE TALL GRASS
126 COLD PURSUIT
127 THE INTRUDER
128 ANGEL HAS FALLEN

THE BOTTOM AND DESERVING
129 THE HUSTLE
130 IT: CHAPTER 2
131 THE DEAD DON’T DIE
132 THE WANDERING EARTH
133 ISN’T IS ROMANTIC
134 GLASS
135 HOBBES AND SHAW
136 GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS
137 HELLBOY
138 X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX

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