• BEST MOVIES: 2019
• BEST DOCUMENTARIES: 2019
• BEST TV: 2019
Note: This will often spotlight directors for special merit.
But Auteur Theory is a shoebox; films are a collaborative effort with everyone involved.
B E S T
M O V I E S :
2 0 1 9
T H I N K
• SHADOW (China) ⇧
Director Zhang Yimou is famed for his epic compositions and rich colors (Hero, House Of Flying Daggers).
Here, he counters this with a Wuxia palace thriller rendered in (almost) greyscale and expressionistic set pieces.
• PARASITE (South Korea) ⇧
Like two melded films burning at both ends, this layered social satire lights up the comedies and tragedies of the class war.
Director Bong Joon-ho (Mother, Snowpiercer) crests on a supurb cast.
• LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT* (China) ⇧
*(not the O'Neill play)
Bi Gan impressed many with his debut film, Kaili Blues (2015).
This follow-up is a startling leap forward, a labyrithine neo-noir that culminates in an eerie symbolist odyssey shot in one hour-long take.
• ASH IS PUREST WHITE (China) ⇧
The journey is the thing.
Director Jia Zhangke unrolls a parable of a woman (artfully played by his partner, Zhao Tao) caught up in smalltown ganglife.
• TOLKIEN ⇧
J.R.R. Tolkein turned Fantasy into literature with the Lord Of The Rings trilogy.
This bracing and touching bio reveals how poverty, war, and love compelled him to make it.
• THE CURRENT WAR ⇧
Civilization exists because of electricity.
This constantly surprising overview of the bruising competition between Edison, Westinghouse, and Tesla leads right into the birth of the modern world.
• THE IRISHMAN ⇧
Scorsese, Pacino, DeNiro, Pesci, Keitel.
The Godfather gang bookend their storied careers with a stately epic.
• ROCKETMAN ⇧
Freeing itself from the biopic rut, this freeform musical captures the quintessential '70s Superstar during his popular zenith and personal lows with surprising candor and inspiration.
The classic songs are impressively produced by Giles Martin.
• OPHELIA ⇧
A feminist riposte to Hamlet, led by the ever-supple Daisy Ridley.
• HER SMELL ⇧
Two films: a handheld faux-doc' of a riot grrrl going mad with Rock excess, and a static stare at sobriety and grace.
Elizabeth Moss strings both extremes.
• PAIN AND GLORY (Spain)
Pedro Almodóvar's swan song.
MVP Antonio Banderas is at his best as the avatar for the director's cathartic personal journey through past and present travails, guiding a fine cast through a layered and moving story.
• LUCY IN THE SKY
A beautiful set-up that goes to an erratic place; based loosely on the true tale of a female astronaut struggling through the aftermath.
This journey is valuable as a feminist rebuke to double-standards, and is undervalued because of them.
S M I L E
• THE LAUNDROMAT
Want to know how the Rich launder all the money they fleece from you?
In this brash experimental comedy, director Steven Soderbergh and an all-star cast expose the Panama Papers, with everyperson Meryl Streep on the trail of the gleefully decadent Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas.
What if you were the only one who knew The Beatles' songs?
This thought experiment proves out as an engaging comedy with some nice character beats and, of course, the best music.
➤ BEATLESQUE Songs: 1963-esque, with Massive
• BOOKSMART ⇧
Normally I can't do suburban angst or High School wanks. Nope.
But this film constantly flays cliches with clever lines, jolting absurdity, and a cast chemistry that is undeniable.
• STAN AND OLLIE ⇧
A gently bittersweet stroll through Laurel and Hardy's final comedy tour that is as funny and touching as their classic films.
Steve Coogan (Stan) and John C. Reilly (Ollie) are uncannily accurate.
• DOLEMITE IS MY NAME ⇧
Comedian Rudy Ray Moore channeled the '70s black underground into albums and films through his rough-rapping character, Dolemite.
Eddie Murphy is clearly on fire playing his idol, a cult figure who helped inspire indie street films and Rap.
(Also, it struts on an excellent soundtrack.)
• THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO ⇧
Half great, half frustrating.
Strongest as a confident, wry character study of two unique friends braving their dreams, weakest when it reduces the city's pluralism to forced generic absolutisms.
D R E A M
• STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER ⇧
I love the Original Trilogy as much as anyone can.
Yet, for me, the new films are the best.
And RISE is the Ultimate STAR WARS film.
It not only splendidly crescendoes its current trilogy, but the entire triple trilogy, with a scope, depth, vision, and intensity that excels them all. Rey is truly The One, and this triumph is beautiful in every facet all the way to its last frame.
➤ Why EMPIRE and LAST JEDI are actually the Best of the STAR WARS films
• HIGH LIFE ⇧
An astronaut, a child, an evolving mystery, and an event horizon.
Claire Denis' nonlinear SF parable unwinds like a play, quietly building and contorting, with star assist from Juliette Binoche, Robert Pattinson, and André Benjamin.
• ANIARA (Sweden) ⇧
A cityship bound for Mars goes astray, and its bereft society struggles to find its way.
Based on Martinson's 1956 symbolist poem, this entrancing film interpretation recalls SF author James Tiptree Jr, with her blend of rumination, turnovers, and undertow.
• AD ASTRA ⇧
The storylines of 2001 and 2010 transformed into the introspective journey of "Heart Of Darkness"/Apocalypse Now.
➤ 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY - Its Transcendent Influence on all Pop Culture, with Music Player!
• FAST COLOR ⇧
Told in plain terms amid wide plains, Julia Hart's naturalist 'superhero' story impresses through twists and teardrops.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw heads a winning, understated cast.
The intersection of Unbreakable and Split, better in its build-up than its end-up.
N I G H T M A R E
• WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE
An effective, if straightforward, adaptation of the emotional thriller.
Always read the original works by Shirley Jackson, to savor her poetry and contemplation.
➤ THE CANON 3: 50 Recent Books That Created Modern Pop Culture, with Music Player!
• THE LIGHTHOUSE
Robert Eggers follows The Witch (2015) with this harsh b/w chiller.
The psychological duel between Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, trapped in a remote lighthouse together, is arresting.
• UNDER THE SILVER LAKE
Essentially a canny Hitchcock homage used to frame a potpourri of LA weirdness.
Well-shot and scored.
• VELVET BUZZSAW
The previous effort Nightcrawler was solid, but this generally sharp LA art world satire insists on being a mediocre horror film instead.
G R A P H I C
I M A G E S
I review and do original illustrations of
all Comics-based films for the review site,
Four Color Films.
• ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL
My Review and original art
• CAPTAIN MARVEL
My Review and original art
My Review and original art
• AVENGERS: ENDGAME
My Review and original art
• SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME
My Review and original art
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A R T F L I X
• TOY STORY 4 ⇧
Every Toy Story sequel is better and deeper, because Pixar waits for a great idea and takes their time with care.
• TEEN TITANS GO! vs TEEN TITANS
I'm a sucker for any Multiversal team-up, always.
• I LOST MY BODY (France)
This pensive and surreal film is not for kids.
A severed hand flexes through Paris to track down its host. Also, a touching romance!
UNDONE ⇧ 1
An indie dramady, mystery thriller, and eye-popping headtrip all in one!
'Undone' is as bright and innovative as almost anything out there. Once the amazing second episode kicks in, no alert person could possibly turn away from this show's mysteries and delights.
The effusive Rosa Salazar (Alita) is riveting as the whirlwind freespirit Alma, teetering between tough self-assessment and radically altered perception of reality itself. Carefully tracing a hypnagogic spirit journey, realized through stunning rotoscope animation and painted backgrounds, the gripping story stays grounded through the rich performances of Angelique Cabral, Constance Marie, Siddharth Dhananjay, Daveed Diggs, and the elastic Bob Odenkirk ('Better Call Saul').
Now that 'Legion', 'Lodge 49', and 'The Good Place' have ended, sharp fans should support 'Undone'.
• STAR WARS: RESISTANCE 2
Essentially 'Archie Meets Star Wars', with all the YA fun that entails.
Great cudos for the conversion of Ralph McQuarrie's signature art designs into anime style.
• DISENCHANTMENT 2
A wonky first half, but a rousing finish.
• MARVEL RISING
A continuing series of specials, starring Ms Marvel, Squirrel Girl, Ghost-Spider, America Chavez, and Captain Marvel.
B E S T
D O C U M E N T A R I E S :
2 0 1 9
• KNOCK DOWN THE HOUSE ⇧
How Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the young progressives overturned the repressive control of the House Of Representitives.
• THE GREAT HACK
How Cambridge Analytica hacked your social media to install a fake President.
• THE EDGE OF DEMOCRACY
How the populist leadership of Brazil was toppled to install the dictator Bolsonaro.
• THE INVENTOR: Out For Blood In Silicon Valley
It's often said 'Bernie Madoff only went to prison because he ripped off rich people', and this doc' taking down another corporate swindler proves that true.
Meanwhile, the wider rich have swindled the country, but that's just business as usual.
• The Two Killings Of SAM COOKE
Sam Cooke was America's soul superstar but, after recording the protest anthem "A Change Is Gonna Come", he died under abrupt and contested circumstances.
• APOLLO 11
On July 20, 1969, the human race became interstellar citizens with our landing on the moon.
• WHO BURNED THE BRONX? ⇧
1970s NYC was gutted and burned for the monied to 'develop'.
• MEMORY: The Origins of ALIEN
The finest SciFi/Horror film of all time gets due remembrance.
B E S T
T V :
2 0 1 9
N E W S
Feed your mind and your activism will follow.
• The Rachel Maddow Show ⇧
• LAST WEEK with John Oliver
• PBS NewsHour
• PBS FRONTLINE
D R A M A
• GENTLEMAN JACK 1 ⇧
Anne Lister scandalized the 1830s with her androgynous sexuality and business acumen.
Here, creator Sally A. Wainwright (Last Tango in Halifax, Happy Valley) brings her secret world -translated from coded journals- to vivid life, pinioned on the mesmerizing performance of Suranne Jones.
• JETT 1 ⇧
Like Catwoman meets "Breaking Bad".
The great Carla Gugino finally gets the breakout role she deserves, completely riveting in Sebastian Gutierrez's sleek hardboiled thriller.
Kinky, brutal, intricate, tender.
• MR. ROBOT 4
Sam Esmail's hacktivist-thriller comes to a heady, challenging finale.
• EL CAMINO: A Breaking Bad Movie
A nuanced postscript to "Breaking Bad" that succeeds on every level.
• THE DEUCE 3 ⇧
The 'show about Porn history' is actually an expose of the rise of our corporate rulers.
In the '70s and '80s, the rich destroyed destitute NYC neighborhoods; this war on the poor proved to be a gentrification scheme to seize land and power, which they used to take over the city, the state, and the nation.
The series finale, set in 1985, spells this out for all the late and the lazy to see. This is the origin of your current overthrow.
• POSE 2 ⇧
The spiritual and sequential 'sequel' to "The Deuce", as viewed and endured by the LGBTQ underground in 1990.
• GAME OF THRONES 8
Television's grandest and most complex show, #1 around the world, comes to a poignant/polarizing finale.
No matter where you fall on that, this series has been one of the most impressive and resonant achievements in TV history.
W O N D E R
Television is the new Cinema.
Through the 20th Century, Film had the lockhold on budgeted scope and artful substance, while television was considered cheap and lowbrow.
In the recent two decades, the tide is turning. With big-pocket cable companies, diverse content, widescreen stereo TVs, longform serials, and sophisticated audiences, televison can now rival or outpace cinema for production values and narrative depth.
Three examples of this are 'Star Trek: Discovery', 'The Mandalorian', and 'Lost In Space'.
• STAR TREK: DISCOVERY 2 ⇧
'Star Trek: Discovery' is the Ultimate STAR TREK.
It symphonizes the idealic passion of the original series, the mad experimentation of the animated and the novels, the serial depth of the Berman-era shows, and the optimum cinerama of the films into an holistic blend of all its varied strengths. This season reinvented the origins of the original, and then, in one breathtaking final leap, boldly went where none of them have gone before.
• THE MANDALORIAN
The new STAR WARS films, tv show, animateds, and comics are the best ever made, lovingly crafted by fans-turned-pros who are enhancing everything we loved from before.
Thank you, Jon Favreau, for the 'Boba Fett space western' that we always wanted.
• LOST IN SPACE 2 ⇧
One of the best shows being made.
As mysteriously epic as 2001, as heart-pounding as RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, as real as THE MARTIAN, as touching as any family dramady around, this ingenius serial constantly surprises and galvanizes at every turn.
If you've been absent, discover your loss.
• THE ORVILLE 2
While "Star Trek: The Next Generation" took over 50 episodes to find its feet, this sleeper did it within its first 12.
If the first season started as NextGen-Lite with fratboy jokes, it later sobered up into a real social issues drama with light asides. The second season warped with that momentum into a fine ReGeneration show that too many, including Trekkers, are missing out on.
• THE OA 2 ⇧
Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij's fearless head-shred epic has more smarts than your kicked ass.
Brazenly deep, heedlessly serpentine, vehemently passionate. Other than "Legion", there is no other show so many light years ahead of the curve. The astounding 5th episode is better than entire seasons of other fine shows.
• COLONY 4
Everything rises up for the final showdown against the alien invasion... and then they cancelled the show.
It's still worth the season's trip, even so.
• 3% 3 (Brazil)
Quietly the best dystopian rebellion story around, led by the great Bianca Comparato and Vaneza Oliveira.
• OSMOSIS 1 (France)
Like 'Black Mirrror', a well-considered critique of how tech can mine you far deeper than it ever should.
• HIS DARK MATERIALS 1
Philip Pullman's fantasy trilogy books unleashed in all the depth that cinema couldn't have time for.
Thoughtful casting and skillfull worldbuilding.
• GOOD OMENS miniseries
A whimsical adaption of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman's staving-apocalypse book, scripted by Neil himself; a bit self-consciously muggy but at its stride when played straight.
Michael Sheen and David Tennant are having such fun as angel and devil that their tide carries everything.
H O R R O R
• THE TWILIGHT ZONE (2019) 1
Rod Serling, an acclaimed playwright, disrupted '50s TV censorship using the guise of a Speculative Fiction show to satirize any oppression of spirit and mind.
This third revival honors him with more diverse casting, sharp social commentary, and character plays.
The third episode, "Replay", is an outstanding condemnation of racial profiling and killer cops that should be mandatory viewing right now.*
*(Albeit, the only one where the new cursing element is justified.)
• BLACK MIRROR 5
While that show honors tradition, its heir is breaking new ground.
Alvin Toffler's theory of 'Futureshock' predicted we couldn't keep up with the ramifications of the tech we churn out.
At 70 minutes each, Charlie Brooker's anthology vignettes set 'five minutes in the future' are as strong as movies, deep as plays, focused as short stories. This is a consistently excellent and profoundly thoughtful series, challenging us to review our evolving reality.
• STRANGER THINGS 3
A strong, well-thought season that pulls the entire ensemble together while advancing each character.
• THE TERROR 2
The first season of this anthology was such an engrossing tale of arctic survival that it didn't really need the horror element.
The second, set in the awful Japanese Internment camps of WWII California, is also such an intense and vitally topical subject in itself.
But the homeland eeriness that accompanies it works well within.
• AMERICAN GODS 2
Neil Gaiman's classic book should have been adapted in two seasons.
But showrunner Bryan Fuller kept adding so much quality expansion to the first season that four seemed more likely.
With his dismissal, the show is now on autopilot, a canny simulation running in place simply to franchise out the book adaption longer than it should be.
Tighten it up and finish.
Awake producers should take this opportunity to bring Bryan Fuller back to create his second phase of the cancelled "Hannibal" series.
H E R O E S
• LEGION 3 ⇧
The most consistently innovative and fearless show on television wraps up.
Noah Hawley trysts dreams and delusions, daring us to stare into a strobe of idylls and eidolons. Like acid stepped on with morphine, "Piper At The Gates Of Dawn" mashed-up with "Jar Of Flies", or "The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test" celtic-knotted with "Naked Lunch".
Roll up for the mystery tour.
• SWAMP THING 1
On the comics page, "Swamp Thing" was two revolutions:
first the acclaimed monster fable by Len Wein and Berni Wrightson (1973), and then the postmodern deconstruction by Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette, and John Totleben (1985). All they got for it was bad movies, tv shows, and cartoons.
Until now. Against all expectation, this solid effort tries earnestly to right most of those screen wrongs.
Cancelled, but a sincere advance that was appreciated by long-time fans.
• DOOM PATROL 1
Grant Morrison's brainwarping stories for Vertigo Comics get very well channeled here, particularly in its latter half.
• UMBRELLA ACADEMY 3
Morrison's Doom Patrol stories inspired his heir, rocker Gerard Way, to write this comic.
The show version is an adept rethink of the Doom Patrol and the X-Men, filtered through Moore and Gibbons' WATCHMEN.
• CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS crossover event
Told in 5 parts across Batwoman, Supergirl, The Flash, Arrow, and Legends Of Tomorrow, this streamlined adaption of the ultimate Multiversal team-up maxiseries (1985) is great fun.
Just as the comic laced all of DC's print history into one shared continuity, the genius of this version was to establish all DC movie and tv shows as one multiveral reality. Fun cameos, new twists, and a hearty effort.
• BATWOMAN 1
There have been several live-action Superman TV series, but never really one for Batman.
The 'Batman' '66 series was only a live cartoon parodying the material from ignorance. Recent surrogate shows like 'Birds Of Prey', 'Gotham', 'Arrow', and 'Pennyworth' are The Batman in absentia. So is this... except it works now; the point is to represent the modern Dark Knight concept accurately, and Kate Kane (Ruby Rose) personifies this completely when all the others couldn't.
The actual Batwoman stories by writer Greg Rucka and artist J.H. Williams III are true works of art, a visual tour de force and critical pinnacle that only a Noah Hawley ('Legion) could translate to screen. Streamlined instead into The CW's teen formulas, this TV show still retains enough basics of Kate's world to fly. 'Arrow' remade Nolan's DARK KNIGHT films for 8 seasons, but this show quietly implies it is their legitimate sequel. And, aside from first-year wonkiness, it is.
• PENNYWORTH 1
This is the antidote to everything that was wrong with the deplorable 'Gotham'.
Beyond all bizarrity and bogglement, they are by the same guy, Bruno Heller. ?!!
Set in an Elseworlds mid-'60s London, this rough drama starring Bruce Wayne's eventual parents and the eponymous Alfred fuses the early 'Avengers' spy series with the harshness of the Harry Palmer films.
Crack dialogue, period precision, sharp photography and music.
• JESSICA JONES 3
The last of the Marvel Netflix shows bows out.
Drastic reversals, intense struggles, hard lessons.
• AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. 6
Knowing their endpoint is next year, they seem to be having fun on the way out.
• RAISING DION 1 ⇧
A sensitive show about an 8-year-old with superpowers is more mature than the CW's YA shows.
An excellent cast, smart stories, many laughs and twists.
• THE ROOK 1
Like "The X-Men" rewritten by John le Carré.
• CLOAK AND DAGGER 2
Twice as long as it should have been, but still pretty solid.
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D E T E C T I V E S
• MINDHUNTER 2 ⇧
An even better second season, with the FBI's original Profiling division coming together, even as their private lives splinter apart.
(The work of pioneer profiler John E. Douglas covered in this period was the direct inspiration for Thomas Harris' "Red Dragon" and "The Silence Of The Lambs").
• TRUE DETECTIVE 3
This anthology series was doing two things that everybody missed:
1) Homaging different eras/styles of detective stories each season.
2) Outlining a secret occult power cabal behind it all.
With all the rabid overvaluing of Season 1 (Southern Gothic) and reflexive underappreciation of Season 2 (Neo Noir), Season 3 (Police Procedural) was forced to retell the first one better to regain public faith, obscuring these goals.
For the anthology show to hold true, it should alternate radically each turn: such as, an 1890s Victorian, a 1930s hardboiled, a B/W '40s Film Noir, a contempo historical mystery to wrap up. Though detectives would investigate a local murder, only the viewers will piece the total puzzle together in the combined overview. So let's back off and let it happen.
That said, Mahershala Ali is sterling here.
• WHEN THEY SEE US Miniseries
Ava Duvernay (Selma) dissects the travesty that framed 'the Central Park 5' youths, based on bigotry and corruption.
C O M E D Y
• THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL 3 ⇧
What showrunner out there can shine the emerging flaws of her rich characters into profound facets, twine all the dynamic social tensions of 1960, and crack wise faster and better than Broadway in Midge's stand-up tours from Vegas to Miami to the Apollo, all with the clockwork intricacy and spectacular zing of a musical?
Amy Sherman-Palladino can. The rest should be taking notes to catch up.
• THE GOOD PLACE 4
The brainiest farce on network TV only increases with quality in its final run.
• BROAD CITY 5
The outrageous Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson bring their hijinks to a close.
• RUSSIAN DOLL 1
Natasha Lyonne and Amy Poehler co-created this livewire headtwister, in which Lyonne navigates the same day forever.
Hilarious and essential.
• LODGE 49 2 ⇧
Imagine a writers room of Thomas Pynchon, Nora Ephron, Elmore Leonard, Tina Fey, Carlos Castaneda, and Robert Altman, getting spliffed and riffing freely.
The unicorn van, shark lawsuits, corporate weasels in Furry suits, headbutting into glass doors, blindfold revelations, the snow room, mariachis through hoops of fire, plane bailouts, The World Under The World.
AMC has cancelled this brilliant show, but treat yourself to the fine journey of both seasons.
Hey, who has time (or money) to see everything?
THE CHAMBERMAID/ LA CAMARISTA
A HIDDEN LIFE
WILD NIGHTS WITH EMILY
GODFATHER OF HARLEM 1
DAVID MAKES MAN 1
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How STAR WARS Is Changing Everything!