Following up on last week's year in review, here are some more of the best of 2019 from a movie fan who never gets to see as many movies as I'd like.
Best Surprise: Dolemite Is My Name launched quietly on Netflix but it's a real treat for cinema lovers and fans of '70s Blaxploitation flicks. Eddie Murphy stars as Rudy Ray Moore, a comedian with a series of hit underground comedy records who's trying to make the jump to films. An uplifting DIY hit on one hand, and a testament to Murphy's watchability on the other. The costumes in this one deserve an Oscar nod.
Best Comedy (Raunchy): Give it to Good Boys for being smart, sweet, B.C.-made, and for reminding us of an era when people were less sensitive about things like sex doll jokes.
Best "Thank heck that's over": Avengers: Endgame. I know popular opinion and all-time-record-breaking box office receipts say otherwise, but those big, crash-bang Marvel universe crossover movies never did it for me. The talent involved makes them watchable, but the storylines just got way too out there, and for all the spectacle I kept falling asleep. (The Marvel Universe is not going anywhere though, and reports are you will need to watch their series on Disney+ to fully appreciate what happens in future films...great.)
Best Run, Actor: Joaquin Phoenix helped Todd Philips' Joker become the highest grossing R-rated film of all time with his portrayal of origin-story Joker. The acting on display is hard not to like, even though I don't think the movie sets up a very strong future for the character (maybe there's a reason superhero stories are so rarely grounded in the real world—is the Joker just an insecure clown with mommy issues? The most iconic villain of all time?).
But Phoenix pre-empted that with 2018's Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot, an equally grim biopic about alcoholism, forgiveness and the life and hard times of controversial paraplegic cartoonist John Callahan, as well as a heavy role in The Sisters Brothers. Phoenix is on a roll. Runner Up: Robert De Niro was also strong in both Joker and Scorsese's The Irishman.
Best Music/Concert Film: 2019 was a strong year for music flicks. Echo in the Canyon traced the roots of folk rock in California (and gave us a final interview with Tom Petty) while Amazing Grace finally gave audiences a look at the live performances behind Aretha Franklin's legendary 1972 gospel album. But for me the winner is Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese, not only for the incredibly personal glimpses it gave of late '70s Dylan on the road, but also because some of it was pure invented fiction passed off as fact. Why? Why not? Dylan has always played with identity and Scorsese was down to play along.
Worst of the year: While we can all agree that the live-action (live CGI?) shot-for-shot remake of The Lion King ended up feeling like more of a cash grab than a rightful homage to a classic, the worst-of-the-year title belongs to another batch of felines, Cats. It's a musical about horny cats rubbing up on each other and while it seems to be aiming for the Showgirls of the 2010's title, it's not even good enough to get that.
Best Movie We Didn't See (and probably the best of the year): Korean director Bong Joon-ho is among the world's best directors. From The Host to Okja to Snowpiercer his flicks are always a solid mix of thrills, comedy and social messaging. His 2019 flick Parasite is about a poor family running a scam to integrate with a family with more wealth and social status. An intense thriller plump with class rage that resonates far beyond Korea, this one took the Palme d'Or at the 2019 Cannes Film Fest and should be available to stream in early 2020.