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Best of the year: Part 1

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The rodent is coming for us all!

Cinematically, 2019 was punctuated by Disney's domination (six of the top 10 grossing flicks of the year, without counting Star Wars) and the continued proliferation of superheroes, franchises, and remakes on the big screen with much of the interesting stuff happening on the streaming platforms.

Episodic narratives (Euphoria, Handmaid's Tale, Watchmen) continue to enjoy a golden era, but the streaming platforms served up some pretty decent original flicks as well.

So, from where I sit (in the back), here are the best of 2019:

Best Heat Check Performance: This is for the actor/actress who comes out of nowhere and does a lot with a little screen time. Margaret Qualley takes it this year as "Cat" in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood. As the tall, dark, and utterly appealing-est Manson family member, Qualley holds her own with Brad Pitt and even steals a scene. Expect big things in 2020. Runner Up: Keanu Reeves as the best/worst boyfriend ever in Ali Wong's Always Be My Maybe.

Biggest One-Two Punch to the Feels: There wasn't a more tear-jerking duo than Won't You Be My Neighbor, Morgan Neville's documentary about the life and love-filled philosophy of children's television icon Mr. Rogers, followed up with A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Marielle Heller's drama based on a 1998 Esquire magazine cover story on Mr. Rogers and why his magic still works on adults as well as children. Tom Hanks stars.

Best Horror Flick: Us, the second film from Jordan Peele (Get Out), offers a fresh take on the home-invasion plot with a nice bit of social satire backed by some phenomenal acting, particularly by Lupita Nyong'o, who does double duty with maximum results. Even if you see the end twist coming, this one is a smart horror that stands up on repeat viewing.

Best Gamble that Pays Off: New Zealand's Taika Waititi (What We Do in Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Thor: Ragnarok) has a solid track record, but even so, it took balls to pitch, and pull off, Jojo Rabbit. In an age of hyper-sensitivity, Waititi sticks the landing on this coming-of-age love story set in Nazi Germany with a 10-year-old protagonist whose imaginary best friend, and biggest cheerleader, is old Adolf himself. An unflinching look at both the absurdity and brutality of war, this is one of the year's best flicks.

Biggest Gamble that Didn't Pay Off: Netflix gave Michael Bay $150 million to make 6 Underground, starring Ryan Reynolds as a billionaire who fakes his own death so he can lead a special ops team to take down some vaguely Middle-Eastern dictator. Unburdened by the need to attract people to the theatre, Bay goes batshit crazy on car chases, exit wounds and ultraviolence, but fails (miserably) to find/massage a script that can tie it all together. This is Bay at his biggest, loudest and worst.

Best Source Material: "I heard you paint houses...?" is only an epic book title once you realize the unspoken second part is "with blood." In The Irishman, Martin Scorsese adapts that book, and the story of teamster/enforcer Frank Sheeran's life, into a 3.5-hour underworld epic starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci, who came out of retirement to steal the movie. Some people moaned about the digital de-aging but anything that gets Scorsese et al. together again is ok with me.

Best Nic Cage: Cage didn't do much this year (only made six films) but Primal was probably his best (Cage on a ship fighting a bunch of jungle animals and a "mercenary assassin"). However, his understudy Matthew McConaughey swung for the fences and brought it home with The Beach Bum, director Harmony Korine's boozy ode to a south Florida poet/stoner and the misadventures he can't seem to not jump into. Moon Dog is a total f*ck-up, but he's certainly not scared of livin'—that's ell-eye-vee-eye-enn. Can the rest of us say the same?

Tune in next week for Part 2 and until then, watch movies, make movies, and happy ho ho ho.

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