My 2019 at the Movies: Rankings and Random Notes

My 2019 at the Movies: Rankings and Random Notes
Photo: Francois Duhamel / Twentieth Century Fox

 

Are you sure you’ve landed in the right spot?

Seriously…Windy City Cinema has been a barren space in the otherwise rich content fields of ChicagoNow for some time. Digital tumbleweeds have blown through here since January of last year, when my previous year-end survey was published. Calling it a hiatus would be generous.

With so many excellent, active critics providing a much more informed take on the year in cinema (see some suggested links at the end of this piece), and as I haven’t been on the film review beat since the fall of 2017, why am I adding to the endless sea of year-end lists? Three reasons:

  • Habit
  • The kind people at ChicagoNow have kept my access to this site open.
  • Rex Reed is somehow still reviewing movies, despite decades of often laughable demonstrated ignorance of and lack of interest in the field he covers, so in that context, I still feel qualified to throw out my two cents.

Still, in recognition of my hubris in even putting together a list and of some of my [ahem] wordier efforts of the past, I’ve tried to keep this edition fairly digestible…at least no heavier than a four-course meal with a rich dessert.

A few things to keep in mind as you scroll through this:

  • As always, I don’t claim these to be the “best” films of the year. That term may be great for SEO (search engine optimization), but it’s especially ludicrous in this era of dozens of releases via multiple platforms every week. These are simply favorites.
  • Per the mention of multiple platforms above, non-theatrical releases are very much in the mix here. I wish every worthy movie could be seen in a proper theater on a large screen, but that hasn’t been the case in decades, really. The “Netflix problem,” as some term it, is really a movie industry and theater chain problem. If those business models can’t bet on movies like The Irishman and Marriage Story to succeed in wide theatrical releases…well, that kind of says everything about how marginalized non-franchise works have become.
  • A couple of short films are included here. Length does not signify worth. (Though not on this year’s list, for the last couple of years, I’ve even allowed room for TV series with cinematic qualities. That line between movies and high-end television, to my mind, has never been thinner.)

While at-home viewing platforms are clearly now the first option for most non-blockbuster releases, I would encourage theater chains and independent distributors to look at the unlikely box office success (relative to costs) of the subtitled Parasite and the defiantly uncommercial The Lighthouse as an argument that there is a theatrical audience for more adventurous works. Be creative in your marketing and release strategy and you might actually fill seats with something besides the next Star Wars sequel, superhero epic or animated family film.

With that entreaty, let the listing begin.

* Indicates a movie shown at the Chicago International Film Festival, not yet in commercial release.
** Indicates a late 2018 release I saw in 2019.

THE FAVORITES

  1. Ad Astra – Somehow, in an era when personal filmmaking and big-budget, mainstream movies have never been further apart, James Gray managed to make “a James Gray film” with his biggest-scale project to date and within a commercial genre (never mind its middling box office returns). A sci-fi movie as intimate and emotionally complex as his previous work, Ad Astra is moving, contemplative and thrilling in equal measures, making a profound argument for empathy (and, one could argue, atheism), and accepting the lack of control we have over life. The influence of 2001, Apocalypse Now and other films (an unexpected nod to Space Cowboys?) is clear, but Ad Astra’s beautiful melding of optimism and melancholy is very much its own. The single, final word spoken in the movie says more than pages of dialogue in lesser scripts.

  1. Pain and Glory – Pedro Almodóvar’s semi-autobiographical tale of a veteran director grappling with extreme physical pain and deeply buried regret is about as emotionally satisfying as movies get. Trying to reconcile past and present, real life and drama, Almodóvar has added to the pantheon of great films about filmmakers – , Ed Wood, Hearts of Darkness…you name it. Antonio Banderas – more subdued than most American viewers are used to seeing him – is outstanding in the lead and Asier Etxeandia is every bit as strong as the estranged actor friend he reconnects with as they revisit a past success. Like the next film on my list, this is an “old man’s movie” in the best possible way.

  1. I Heard You Paint Houses (OK, The Irishman, if you insist) – Where GoodFellas was rock-and-roll cinema, thriving on propulsive visual energy and made when its creator was still under 50; this is its more somber, ruminative counterpart – a wholly unglamorous view of the underworld from an artist in his mid-seventies. Yes, it needed to be three-and-a-half hours long, both to do justice to the scope of the story and to properly convey the slow-building tragedy of its morally vacant leading character (Robert De Niro in his best performance in ages). Joe Pesci is flawless as the easygoing, never explosive mafioso (the total flip-side to his GoodFellas role). You can argue whether the “de-aging” CGI effects are a success or a distraction, but if that ruins the movie for you, you’re paying attention to the wrong things.

  1. The Lighthouse – What a fantastically strange, funny and daring movie this is. Writer-director Robert Eggers and cinematographer Jarin Blaschke took some chances with their surprise hit, The Witch, but they really worked without a net this time. Equal parts experimental art film and absurdist, black comedy “bromance,” The Lighthouse makes room for surreal existentialism, machismo-bashing and fart jokes. Shot in an obscure aspect ratio (even closer to square than Golden Age Hollywood films) in striking, high-contrast black-and-white, it’s a unique visual experience for sure, but never at the expense of its oddball, two-character psychodrama. Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson are both in peak form and I really hope Pattinson’s upcoming stint as Batman doesn’t halt a streak of bold, post-Twilight career choices like this one.

  1. Parasite – I haven’t seen two of his seven features, but based on the five I have watched, it’s hard to think of another filmmaker who can match the creative hot streak writer-director Bong Joon-Ho (The Host, Mother, Snowpiercer) is on. This dark, socioeconomic satire brilliantly plays with audience expectations, turning from a sly portrait of a working poor family conning their affluent employers to…well…something very different. To say Parasite has a twist is a disservice to how radically the movie changes course. Yet, in spite of its extremes, this is also a sincere and surprisingly affectionate family portrait.

  1. The Nightingale – The most punishing movie I saw last year was also one of the most rewarding. This harrowing, exceptionally well-made revenge tale set in 19th century Tasmania puts the worst endured by women and the native population of the times front and center. The audience can’t hide from disturbing depictions of rape, murder and worse, but even as we root for the forever-damaged heroine and her Aboriginal guide to destroy their tormentors, writer-director Jennifer Kent lets enough humanity peek through to remind us why she’s putting us through this. In Aisling Franciosi’s fearless performance as the victim-turned-avenger, we see a power of pure survival that echoes from colonial slavery to #MeToo. Like Robert Eggers, Jennifer Kent cashed in the clout earned from an unexpected, breakthrough horror hit (The Babadook) to make a really risky pet project. I understand those put off by this, but this isn’t merely “feel-bad” exploitation; it’s a cinematic scream of outrage that deserves to be heard.

  1. Love, Antosha – When performers die too young, our focus is naturally on what might have been instead of what was. This heartfelt portrait of Anton Yelchin goes against the grain of that habit, showing a life lived as fully as one of only 27 years could be and giving viewers intimate access to the actor’s ongoing self-investigation via journal entries and diary-like videos. This documentary shows Yelchin’s considerable artistry beyond his acting (he was a serious musician and a provocative photographer) and his dogged determination to do justice to his creative pursuits. Beyond all that, it captures a real human being – as complicated as he was kind and gifted.

  1. Rolling Thunder Review: A Bob Dylan Story – Two great Martin Scorsese films in one year? We must have been good little cinephiles! I run hot and cold with Bob Dylan (and probably lean toward the cold), but this playful blending of fact, a little mischievous bullshit, and great performance footage captures him as an energetic live performer far removed from the distant, audience-unfriendly figure I saw at my lone Dylan concert. More vital than how Scorsese portrays the singer-songwriter though, is how he plays the audience. It’s all laid out in the opening moments of the movie for those paying attention, but this is very much about how all movies – and maybe documentaries more than others – are exercises in manipulation. And though Rolling Thunder Revue is mainly lighthearted and joyous, it’s also an important reminder to stay on our toes in an era of widespread misinformation.

  1. Them that Follow – Thanks to The Simpsons, I can’t think of snake-handling as an act of faith without giggling, but this underrated, underseen indie is a gripping portrait of the kind of cultural isolation and spiritual hunger that leads to such bizarre practices. Though set in a remote Appalachian, devoutly Pentecostal community, this isn’t a movie trying to portray the dark world of some easily duped rural weirdos. Instead, it shows the intersection of faith and community politics (and its corresponding corruption) that defines much of the world, and the courage it takes to break away from accepted, damaging traditions. Standout performances from Alice Englert, Walton Goggins and Olivia Colman.

  1. “This Way to Egress” from Nightmare Cinema – Horror anthologies are very much in vogue (largely because they are cheap to produce), but though I’m a fan of the form, they are often a mixed bag at best. That’s certainly the case with Nightmare Cinema, but writer-director David Slade’s visually imaginative and psychologically disturbing segment deserves to be seen as its own work (and because the wrap-around segments connecting the shorts are really unnecessary, it’s easy to do). A black-and-white nightmare vision of a mother possibly losing hold of her sanity, it recalls the work of two great Davids – Lynch and Cronenberg – and that is no small praise.

  1. The Sound of Silence – Rather than complaining about this movie’s utter invisibility (I never would have found it without a random scroll through Hulu’s menus), I should celebrate that it exists at all. This delicate, offbeat drama of human fragility runs counter to everything that might succeed in the marketplace and stars Peter Sarsgaard and Rashida Jones (both excellent) deserve a round of applause for signing up for director and co-writer Michael Tyburski’s highly unconventional debut feature. Sarsgaard plays a “house tuner” who tries to find ambient dissonance that unknowingly causes anxiety for his clients, including Jones. Ultimately, this is about loneliness in the big city, but the sonic pseudo-science provides a fresh backdrop for that timeless struggle.

  1. El Camino: A “Breaking Bad” Movie – I’ll take some crap for ranking this as high as I have it, but not only did Vince Gilligan pull off a stand-alone sequel to a beloved series that already had a perfect ending; he demonstrated he’s a filmmaker to be reckoned with in the process. Unlike The Irishman and Marriage Story, when this Netflix film played on movie screens (limited showtimes in a few cities), it seemed more an excuse to hype the premiere than presenting it as a “real movie.” So, I didn’t fret about catching it on the tube. But when I watched it at home, the heavier use of wide shots, arresting deep-focus framing and unexpected camera angles immediately made me regret not seeing it in a theater. I would have cut the Walter White cameo, but that’s a quibble. This is a tense, ultimately cathartic experience for those of us who came to know, tolerate and finally love Jesse Pinkman. Aaron Paul is fantastic as Jesse, fighting through PTSD for survival and freedom, and Robert Forster (who died just before this was released) gets a lovely curtain-closer to his career.

  1. The Peanut Butter Falcon – Sentimentality gets a bad rap in the arts, but I’ve always distinguished it from schmaltz and welcome it with open arms when presented with craft. This buddy picture/road movie gets it absolutely right. It combines a far less cloying spin on the Rain Man formula with the vivid regional flavor and suspense of a movie like Mud. As an angry outcast on the run, Shia LaBeouf is so good, you’ll almost forget his embarrassing man-child outbursts in real life, and Zack Gottsagen, who has Down Syndrome, brings real humor and presence to the role of the care center escapee who becomes his unlikely pal. Gottsagen isn’t just there to represent his affliction – he’s an actor bringing a distinctive personality to the film.

  1. Carmilla* –Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1872 vampire story has been brought to the screen (or ripped off without credit) countless times, ranging from mostly faithful adaptations to soft porn exploitations, but Emily Harris’ atmospheric version is no copycat. Using the supernatural elements mainly symbolically, Harris drenches the tale equally in angst and eroticism, focusing on the sexual insecurity and societal demonization of homosexuality that was always the subtext of Le Fanu’s tale. Beautifully filmed with authentic period detail.

  1. Marriage Story – Considering my lack of enthusiasm for some other Noah Baumbach films, I was surprised how engaged and moved I was by this one. I don’t think it’s as perfect as many have made it out to be. The sardonic portrait of divorce lawyers almost seems to belong in a different movie (though I enjoyed the distinctive comic turns by Laura Dern, Alan Alda and Ray Liotta). And what begins as a refreshingly evenhanded view of divorce does subtly move to the husband’s point of view, sacrificing some more challenging dramatic possibilities. That said, this is a far more empathetic effort than the glum, self-pitying tone of The Squid and the Whale or Greenberg. And Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are every bit as great as advertised. I defy anyone to watch Driver reading “the letter” (no spoilers here) and suggest any actor who could play that scene better.

  1. The Moneychanger* – You can have Uncut Gems (see below); I’ll take this sly Uruguayan comic drama as my choice for 2019’s best portrait of a greed-driven clown getting in way too deep in his pursuit of the good life. The seductively warm cinematography plays well against the mordant wit of the screenplay, and Daniel Hendler is terrific as the weasel protagonist.

  1. In the Shadow of the Moon – What a strange bird this is. It starts like Vice Squad and ends like Ad Astra…kind of. Inventive science fiction stuck somewhere between slick genre fare and an ambitious B-movie, its thematic depth kind of sneaks up on you. Imagine The Terminator crossed with a pulp detective story and some anti-#MAGA subtext and you’ll have a vague idea of what this genre-bender is like. All this, plus a Philadelphia ‘76ers motif? Hot damn! If the movie ultimately bites off more than it can chew, it’s entertaining and provocative enough that I’m A-OK with that.

  1. Arctic – With his often impassive, hard-to-read expression, Mads Mikkelsen turns out to be the perfect lead for a survival drama. If anyone’s going to gut it out, mostly on his own, while stranded in the freezing environs of the Arctic, you can believe this stone-faced hero will do it. Though not quite the one-man show All Is Lost was for Robert Redford, writer-director Joe Penna’s wilderness adventure relies equally on Mikkelsen, and the Danish actor is so known for his subdued style, that when he does let loose with his emotions, it really packs a punch.

  1. Depraved – Though he’s been very busy as an actor, producer and audio drama creator, it’s been 13 years since we’ve gotten a true Larry Fessenden film and it’s good to have him back. Depraved is his second DIY take on Frankenstein, and where the first (1991’s No Telling) dealt with scientific mistreatment of animals, this one centers on the exploitation of humans via war, commerce and science corrupted to serve both of those masters. It has its shaky moments, but Fessenden’s trademark style of tragic horror shines through. It’s also his angriest film to date – a natural response from a filmmaker so concerned with societal ethics who has watched them devolve so quickly.

  1. Avengement – Initially I thought I’d put this excessively violent action film under “guilty pleasures,” but aside from not having enough films to justify that category, the climactic fight scene here tipped this for me from indulgence to real admiration. This British revenge flick is pure red meat cinema, and direct-to-video stalwart Scott Adkins is the poor man’s Jason Statham. But a supporting cast of terrific, lesser-known character actors (Nick Moran is especially charismatic) and a genuinely gritty underworld feel make the formula seem fresh. While there are bloody fight scenes throughout, the pacing is excellent, allowing some effective dramatic breathers before the next showdown. And then there’s that final, epic barroom brawl. Holy cats! It’s a master class in choreographed carnage.

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Booksmart – This coming-of-age comedy works a bit too hard to prove its socially conscious, diversity-first bona fides, but it’s good-natured, has some really funny scenes and boasts a charismatic young cast along with a few welcome comedy veterans of slightly older vintage. A brisk and upbeat directorial debut for Olivia Wilde.

Captive State – There are big flaws that critics and “plot police” sci-fi fans have used to dismiss this alien invasion movie, but I was really impressed with its layered plot, suspenseful action and socio-political smarts. As Joe Leydon pointed out in Variety, it’s actually got more in common with Army of Shadows than War of the Worlds.

The Dead Don’t Die – It was sold as a Zombieland horror-comedy, but it’s a Jim Jarmusch film, so of course it was never going to be that. As a Jarmusch spin on horror tropes, this doesn’t compare to the brilliant Only Lovers Left Alive, but his trademark deadpan humor succeeds within a calmly despairing worldview. Adam Driver’s oft-repeated line, “This isn’t going to end well,” seems like solid, 21st century logic.

Destroyer** – Nicole Kidman’s performance as a haggard, furious, hard-living ex-FBI agent is a little too mannered for my tastes, but I was still very caught up in this grim saga of crime and corruption. Adroit plotting and some really well-executed action sequences.

Dolemite Is My Name – The Ed Wood template (from the same screenwriters) is used to good effect in this telling of the Rudy Ray Moore Story. Coming off a few years of relative inactivity, Eddie Murphy shows he still has star power to burn as the unlikely and absurd DIY blaxploitation film/standup comedy/rap artist.

The Great Hack – A riveting and disturbing distillation of how Cambridge Analytica helped corrupt democracy. The documentary fails in not tackling the sorry state of media literacy (if we don't correct course on that, data rights soon won't matter at all), but this is essential viewing at a time of peak misinformation.

Richard Jewell – The black eye earned for its “slut-shaming” depiction of reporter Kathy Scruggs (not alive to defend herself) is deserved, but there’s still a heck of a lot to admire here. Clint Eastwood’s direction is subtly expressive and he skillfully underplays moments many filmmakers would milk for high emotion. Billy Ray’s screenplay is full of choice, often funny moments, especially those between Paul Walter Hauser as the alternately likeable and off-putting title character and a never-better Sam Rockwell as his attorney.

Knives Out – Rian Johnson made his name with some novel twists on different genres (neo-noir in Brick, time travel sci-fi in Looper), then lost all signs of personality with his entry in the Star Wars franchise. Thankfully, he brought plenty of spark to this broadly comic whodunnit with amusingly contrived plotting, high-style camerawork, fun production design (“The guy practically lives on a Clue board”), and a nice kick in the pants to the one-percenters as a bonus.

The Last Photograph Danny Huston, one of my favorite working actors, returned to the director’s chair for the first time in over 20 years with this brooding study of grief. The movie may be guilty of being a little one-note in its gloomy tone, but it takes some structural chances that pay off and Huston’s powerful lead performance – one of his best in a career with many gems – overcomes any directorial stumbles.

Mickey and the Bear – This impressive first feature from writer-director Annabelle Attanasio is an intimate drama about a girl trying to find her way out of a poisoned home life with her drug addict father. The last shot is amazing – like the ending of The 400 Blows for an angrier age. Expect big things from Camila Morrone, who had a grand total of four screen credits before landing the lead role here.

Yesterday – Richard Curtis is one of the better modern purveyors of wish-fulfillment romantic fantasies and his fun premise here (failed singer-songwriter wakes up to find out he is the only person in the world who remembers The Beatles) gets an energetic treatment from director Danny Boyle and a winning cast. It doesn’t have the emotional payoff of Curtis’ About Time, but one memorable scene comes pretty close.

 

WORTH A LOOK

Dark Waters – This very traditional, issue-driven drama seems out of place for a director as inventive as Todd Haynes, but he tells an important story (DuPont’s Teflon poisoning) with no-frills effectiveness.

Joker –Writer-director Todd Phillips is a country mile away from the Taxi Driver/King of Comedy weightiness he wants to emulate, but Joaquin Phoenix makes a Method marvel of a madman in this entertaining, over-budgeted exploitation fare.

Judy – This nicely mounted bio-pic has one glaring problem: Renée Zellweger simply can’t sing anything like Judy Garland. They should have dubbed her. But she does capture Garland in her final years superbly in the dramatic scenes.

The Kid – Dane DeHaan’s odd, insular performance doesn’t work for me, but Vincent D’Onofrio’s revisionist retelling of the Pat Garrett/Billy the Kid saga is a solid western, with a strong performance from Ethan Hawke as Garrett and wildly successful casting against type of Chris Pratt as a really nasty bad guy.

Knock Down the House – Watch AOC ride an electric scooter around the Capitol Building! If that doesn’t sell you, this inspiring doc about four progressive women running for Congress in the 2018 mid-terms might make you feel a little less dread about 2020…even though only one of them won (spoiler alert: she rides a scooter).

Late Afternoon** – A truly touching animated short from Ireland about a woman living with dementia, seeing glimpses of her past in the present. Simple, profound and lyrical.

Little Women – Greta Gerwig’s obvious love for the source material and a fine cast helps this adaptation of the oft-filmed classic overcome some serious stumbling blocks, including an awkward flashback structure and occasionally ham-fisted attempts to bring feminist undercurrents in the novel to the surface. A good movie, but not a patch on the magnificent 1994 version (one of my top films of the last 25 years).

Mary, Queen of Scots** – The modern revisionist touches rubbed some the wrong way, but as someone who often finds British historical dramas to be a little too safe and ready-made for PBS, I liked the verve of this one. Margot Robbie is impressive as Queen Elizabeth – a role that, on first glance, seemed like miscasting.

Ready or Not – This umpteenth variation on The Most Dangerous Game could have used a sharper script, but the cast and breezy direction pull some enjoyably dark comic moments out of it. The ending is pretty grand.

Stockholm – The bank heist that inspired the phrase “Stockholm Syndrome” is played out with dry humor and mild suspense. Ethan Hawke’s livewire lead performance lifts this above average.

Triple Frontier – Exciting crime/adventure yarn with vets turned mercenaries and a heist gone wrong. It’s telling of Netflix’s content overload that this big-budget film – directed and written by recent awards season favorites (director J.C. Chandor made Margin Call and All Is Lost; co-screenwriter Mark Boal won an Oscar for The Hurt Locker), and starring some pretty big names (Ben Affleck and Oscar Isaac among them) – came and went like an obscure indie dropped on the services ever-changing menu.

Vice** – Adam McKay can’t direct traffic, but he’s a good writer with a talent for making intricate stories accessible, as he proved with The Big Short. This fast-paced account of the rise and reign of Dick Cheney sometimes gets lost between bio-pic and sketch comedy, but it’s an engaging, often funny CliffsNotes of the life and times of one of the most destructive and influential figures of our age.

Weekends** – Domestic heartbreak gets some slivers of fantasy-derived relief in this excellent animated short about a child of divorce.

 

OVERRATED

Dragged Across Concrete – I was intrigued by S. Craig Zahler’s first two features (Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99), but looking at them in the context of this third film, I’m not sure there’s enough substance to his macho epics to justify their slow builds and long running times. Putting aside the very reasonable question of how Zahler feels about his racist cop heroes (casting Mel Gibson makes it an even more loaded issue), I’m not sure all his studied attention to detail makes his movies any more morally complex than say, Avengement (see above), as extreme violence remains the final destination. There could be more than meets the eye here, but I’m dubious.

Midsommar – No doubt that Ari Aster is a talented filmmaker, but seeing this after his acclaimed debut Hereditary, I think his work so far lacks the empathy needed to justify his use of real-world traumas to set up what are ultimately shockers, pure and simple. While the latter parts of Hereditary were crazily entertaining enough to let Aster get away with “that scene” (if you’ve seen it, you know it), Midsommar takes far too long mainly walking in the steps of a better movie (The Wicker Man) to make its main character’s tragic backstory anything but trivial in the end. And the “feet first” leap and some other nasty moments suggest Aster might be little more than Eli Roth with better directorial chops.

Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood – Like The Hateful Eight, there are parts of Tarantino’s latest that I really love, but they’re ultimately outweighed by tonal inconsistency and climactic nastiness. Leonardo Di Caprio’s performance is a treasure and all his scenes on the western movie shoot are fantastic. But while Margot Robbie’s energy makes her performance as Sharon Tate easy to enjoy, the film writes her off as a good-natured flake and she was smarter and more serious than that. The real problem, though, is QT’s usual inability to merge extreme violence and comedy. The brutal climax undoes the intended fictional grace note for Tate and company that ends the movie. And I know it’s the Manson Family bearing the brunt of the beatings, but between this and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s treatment in Hateful Eight…well the word “misogyny” did pop into my head.

Uncut GemsGood Time was my introduction to the Safdie brothers’ work and I was won over by its manic energy and offbeat touches. But Uncut Gems turns up the manic edge to 11 and it made me feel like I was being shouted at throughout the entire film. There is style to spare and some humor in the insanely bad choices Adam Sandler’s gambling addict jeweler keeps making, but on the whole, this is one of the most annoying films I've sat through in a long while.

 

FORGETTABLES

Bohemian Rhapsody**

The Curse of La Llorona

High Flying Bird

The Isle

Long Shot

Luce

Nightmare Cinema (minus This Way to Egress; see above)

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Treehouse

The Wind

 

REGRETTABLES

Blinded by the Light (and yes, I’m a Springsteen fan)

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Green Book**

Pet Sematary

Pilgrim

Rocketman

St. Agatha

 

DISAPPOINTMENTS

Doctor Sleep

Everybody Knows

Stan and Ollie**

Us

Velvet Buzzsaw

Where'd You Go, Bernadette?

 

FAVORITE REVIVALS (FIRST VIEWINGS)

Appointment with Danger (1950, Noir City Chicago)

Don’t Bother to Knock (1952, Chicago Film Society)

The Garment Jungle (1957, Noir City Chicago)

The Lineup (1958, Noir City Chicago)

Nightfall (1956, Noir City Chicago)

Private Hell 36 (1954, Noir City Chicago)

Pushover (1954, Noir City Chicago)

Seminole (1953, Chicago Film Society)

Trapped (1949, Noir City Chicago)

 

FAVORITE REVIVALS (REVISITING OLD FRIENDS)

Dog Soldiers (2002, Music Box of Horrors)

He Ran All the Way (1951, Chicago Film Society)

The House that Dripped Blood (1971, Davis Theatre)

The Man Who Laughs (1928, Music Box of Horrors)

Phantom of the Paradise (1974, Sci-Fi Spectacular)

Pinocchio (1940, Music Box)

 

FAVORITE HOME-VIEWING DISCOVERIES† (excluding 2019 releases)

Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me (2012, Tubi)

Kid Gallahad (1937, DVD)

One of Our Aircraft Is Missing (1942, Blu-ray disc)

Rockpile: Born Fighters (1979, YouTube)

Scott Walker: 30 Century Man (2006, Kanopy)

† First-time views…not suggesting I actually discovered these like an archeologist or something.

Looking for some 2019 surveys from critics more attuned to the range of what’s out there than this hobbyist? Here are some recommendations:

Film Comment – This is still my go-to publication for a hint of the full breadth of cinema and their annual poll of editors and contributors always turns up some interesting selections as you get further into the list.

Sight & Sound – Because British release dates are sometimes later, some notable 2018 pictures pop up on Sight & Sound’s contributors’ poll, but you will find plenty of lesser-known films alongside those popping up on all the year-end tallies. If you’ve got time to dig deeper, their list of each voter’s choices can lead you down a rabbit hole of discovery.

White City Cinema – Michael Glover Smith does a better job keeping up with international cinema than countless critics with higher profiles. Check out his choices for Top Films of 2019 and Top 100 Films of the Decade.

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    Joel Wicklund has been writing about movies for over two decades now and, shockingly, he is still allowed to do so. He was a film critic for Chicagoist before its demise, among other outlets. He insists on claiming more online space here in the hope of indoctrinating more lost souls in his personal cult of cinephilia. Reviews, rants, interviews, features…you get the drift.

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