The Pits

The Pits: Best in Film 2019

Editor’s Note: Feel free to post as big or as small of a list as you would like below but please keep your lists contained to these posts and do not make your own post or fill up the OT with them. The winners will be announced alongside the other winners of The Pits on 12/23 and will be calculated by adding up your lists (10 points for first, 9 for second, etc. with 5 per awarded for unranked Top 10 lists). The preference is for ranked lists to aid in determining a winner, but you are not required to rank them. Voting will be cut off some time on 12/20 so make sure to cast your ballot before then. If you wish to change your ballot before that date, feel free to do so.

Hello, Avocados. El Santo here. You may know me from that one post I did about that time I ate a durian. I also host the weekly movie thread, which I sorta made off with like a thief in the night. It’s an honor to be hosting the 2019 Pits for Film.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to put together a list of the following:

  • ROBOT’S CHOICE AWARD FOR BEST FILM (10 BEST FILMS OF 2019)
  • 10 BEST FILMS OF 2018

First, a few, uh, provisos… a couple of quid pro quos….

For simplicity’s sake (or, alternately, to make things far more complicated), I am going to say that it will be the year of the wide release. Under the Silver Lake, for example, debuted at Cannes in 2018 and is listed as a 2018 movie by Letterboxd and Wikipedia. The movie didn’t reach general audiences until it showed up on Prime Video in 2019, though. I count it a 2019 film. I didn’t think it was fair to assign the movie a 2018 release because a tiny audience at Cannes saw it. If this sounds complicated, I wouldn’t sweat it; most movies have debuts and wide releases in the same year.

Foreign wide releases count as a wide-release date, though. Climax didn’t debut in the US until 2019. However, it was released in France in 2018. If you are an American Avocado, I would consider Climax to be a 2018 movie.

The term “movies” is a little muddled in this age of streaming, too. I’ll count most things, though. Guava Island, which, for all I know, only showed up on Prime Video? It counts. The Breaking Bad movie? It counts. Hulu’s Fyre Festival documentary, which could probably be an episode of 20/20? It counts. Beyonce’s Homecoming concert documentary, which was nominated for several Emmys (which are awarded to televised programmes)? It counts.

A four-episode string of one hour episodes on Netflix that is basically one long movie? I’m going to say “no” unless you have a good argument for it. Also I would personally not count individual episodes of ESPN’s 30 for 30 or The Toys That Made Us, even though, it can be argued, those are indistinguishable from several documentaries that would qualify. (Sorry, The Good, The Bad, and The Hungry. Rolling Thunder Revue, on the other hand? You’re good.)

Feel free to talk about your picks as much or as little as you want. A little blurb gives me some insight into why you love a movie so. It might get me and others to check it out! But just putting out your own Best 10 list with no explanation is fine too. I mean, who has the time to go on incomprehensible punditries?

And now… my lists complete with incomprehensible punditries!

Not seen (or finished) yet but I suspect would have modified my list: Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, The Art of Self-Defense, One Cut of the Dead, The Lighthouse, Ad Astra, and The Last Black Man in San Francisco. One only has so much time, though, and often I only get to theaters with a group of people looking for a good time. Movies tend to become more readily available on streaming 2 or 3 years after they were initially filmed, and then they can be viewed at my leisure. Getting to the “good” movies takes a modicum of dedication.

I should also like to point out that as of this writing Cats hasn’t come out yet, which is clearly going to be my number one pick of 2019.  (But hey, ballots can be changed all the way until 12/20.  THERE’S STILL TIME!)


ROBOT’S CHOICE AWARD FOR BEST FILM (10 BEST OF 2019)

My Top Ten

  • 10.) Fyre – The memes about that guy who was willing to pleasure a man to get water may have buried how strong of a documentary this is. (Honestly, I was doubting the sincerity of that moment. A high powered exec is trying to say that his struggle equals that of the poor builders who got screwed out of payment? Get out of here.) Chris Smith’s Fyre exposes the hypocrisy of what we can realize as the quintessential American dream. Nothing is impossible if you’re willing to put the hard work into it! Fake it until you make it, right? That’s the Billy McFarland way. Except… you’re actually making other people do the hard work for you, whether its developing your celebrity booking app or catering food for people who have to sleep in FEMA tents. And when you fail, you drag a lot of innocent people down with you. McFarland, on the other hand, lives to scam another day.
  • 9.) The Irishman – Joe Pesci surprised me with a rare understated performance. Everyone was great, honestly, which should shock no one. Scorsese’s most recent gangster film shows the consequences of loyalty and brotherhood: alienation from your family and the final indignity of aging and uselessness. (My biggest criticism is purely aesthetic: I didn’t care for the lighting or the color grading.)
  • 8.) Alita: Battle Angel – The gut level reaction is that if a movie is an anime adaptation, it’s going to be terrible. The reality: I’ve enjoyed the recent ones quite a lot… even Ghost In The Shell. It’s in part because they give us a glimpse into the cyberpunk sci-fi of the 80’s and 90’s. Alita, with Rosa Salazar’s ginormous eyes and all, transported me back to the days of being a young weeaboo who hung around the anime section of Suncoast Videos and told everyone within earshot how the Japanese scene was superior because they were making animation for adults. The fully realized setting, dominated by a haphazard tangle of concrete buildings stacked atop each other, reminds me of the densely packed urban jungles of Asia. It’s a mess, but perhaps preferable to the modern-yet-sterile glass and steel towers inhabited by the villains. And before you write this off as an ironic pick, I did end up watching this movie twice and found myself enjoying it more the second time… something I can’t say for a lot of other comics-based movies I saw this year. James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez might have a future in action movies.
  • 7.) Under the Silver Lake – Sometimes you’re in the mood for something a little surreal. Under the Silver Lake is Chinatown by way of David Lynch. It’s a stylish neo-noir where a woman’s disappearance spurs the lackadaisical Andrew Garfield into solving a mystery. What he finds are assassins in owl masks, women serving giant cherries on tombstones, and a Hobo King that wanders the tunnels under the city. It’s all nonsense… and it’s that way by design.
  • 6.) Midsommar – Imagine if this movie been scrubbed of all horror elements and simply have been a drama about a couple in a broken relationship going to an ancient ceremony in Sweden. It would still have made my top ten list. The setting, the costuming, and the cinematography are absolutely top notch. It’s bright, white linens, whimsical paintings, and quirky buildings that look like children’s blocks with their simple geometric architecture and primary colors. You know eventually something bad is going to happen (I’m guessing everyone knew going in that Midsommar is a horror movie), and the pretty surroundings are going to be set apart in stark contrast.
  • 5.) Spider-Man: Far From Home – Beating out Avengers: Endgame for my favorite superhero movie of the year is its epilogue. The appeal is, in part, tied to the concluding Avengers movie. Far From Home provides a great deal of emotional closure while giving some clues as to what the next stage of Marvel movies is going to look like. I also like superhero movies that take things to street level. There’s no cosmic threat that’s going to destroy the world here. Just street level villainy that threatens to ruin Peter Parker’s vacation plans. That’s pretty much the Spider-Man-sized dilemma in a nutshell.
  • 4.) Ford V Ferrari -This movie is well worth watching for the race footage alone. I hadn’t felt such an adrenaline rush since the first Fast & Furious movie. At its core, FvF the story of creative types and their constant struggle with people with money and power. (A more apt title would’ve been Shelby and Miles v Ford and Ferrari.) Has any other sports movie ever been so cynical of the team’s owners? You get the intellectual highs from the feeling of accomplishment when you beat your opponents on the field. At the end of the day, though, you’re a pawn in the service of rich people, and they decide when your usefulness is at and end.
  • 3.) Us – How great are these four leads in playing two sets of characters? Lupita Nyong’o is especially good both as a frightened mother and as a deranged psycho. Us is also visually stunning. Taking place mostly at night, it doesn’t look harshly lighter or too dark. The movie glows in lovely shades of brown and cream. (Funnily, it reminds me of a scene from Dolemite Is My Name, where Rudy Ray Moore complains that the mainstream movies don’t know how to light a Black person properly.) Us is probably the best looking movie I’ve seen this year. It’s frightening, comedic, allegorical, surreal, and it’s great fun. Jordan Peele might know a thing or two about making good movies.
  • 2.) Parasite – How often do you see a movie pivot from comedy to terror to horror to tragedy? Parasite is a surprising yet confident movie. You’re never entirely sure which direction Bong Joon-Ho is going to take the story. It’s a movie that about a class struggle where the people are more nuanced than you’d expect. The sets are wonderful and familiar: the Kim’s dingy lower story apartment and the Park’s modern house. If I’m sounding stingy with the details, it’s on purpose. As many have said, the movie is best not knowing anything about it going in. (And even better the more you’re familiar with Bong Joon-Ho’s other movies.) Incidentally, between this, Ford V Ferrari, Us, Under the Silver Lake, Alita, and Fyre, there’s a strong theme of class struggle going on in my top ten list.
  • 1.) Toy Story 4 – This movie hit me in the same way Up, my all time favorite Pixar movie. Toy Story 4 hit me in the same way. TS4 also deals with aging, obsolescence, and finding a new purpose. These are themes, I imagine, are baffling to its supposed audience of 6-year-olds, but are quite resonant to my own demographic of grumpy old men. This is one of the best looking Toy Story movies as well. Children’s playrooms have given way to a shadowy, sunset world of antique shops and carnivals. Even toys aren’t the soft lovable rubber from previous ventures. They’re ratty carnival prizes, terrifying dummies, or literally made of garbage. Toy Story 4 brought me to tears not out of grief, but of the displays of love.

Honorable mention: Joker, Homecoming (the Beyonce documentary), Godzilla: King of Monsters, Avengers: Endgame, Dolemite Is My Name

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10 BEST OF 2018

My Top Ten

  • 10.) Teen Titans Go! To the Movies – It’s hard to fully articulate why I deemed to give this movie the 1 point (over fellow 2018 superhero flicks Black Panther, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Venom, and Aquaman) without going into a long-winded comic book rant (which is totally antithetical to a post about 10 Best Films). The movie is essentially a sillier and longer episode of a popular Cartoon Network show aimed at pre-teens. Maybe if I told you this movie features the only cameo Stan Lee ever made in a DC movie? Or the meta-casting of Nic Cage as Superman? It’s both a lampooning and celebration of this decade’s superhero-dominated media, making TTGTM this era’s Spaceballs.
  • 9.) Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – It never occurred to me how similar animated CGI movies were until Spider-Verse showed up and broke the mold. Even before the other Spider-Men (Spiders-Man?) show up to fracture the film into a mix of several different styles, it’s already set itself apart from its animated brethren by digging deep into its comic books roots. Thought balloons, panel breaks, and onomatopoeia are given form in a world rendered in bright, day glow colors.
  • 8.) Deadpool 2 – While the Deadpool series is famous for being irreverent and the Rated-R alternative to superhero movies, I love it for another reason: it might be my favorite depiction of the X-Men universe in film ever. The Juggernaut looks like The Juggernaut. Josh Brolin’s Cable looks and acts like Cable! Domino… doesn’t look much like Domino but Zazie Beetz owns the character. This is the actual X-Men universe I’d dreamed of seeing in movies since the comics! The movie also has some genuine heartbreaking moments, and Wade Wilson himself is a more sympathetic (and less abrasive) character than in the original movie.
  • 7.) Hereditary – Are Ari Aster moves really just dramas that trick you into watching them by billing them as horror? The most riveting part about Hereditary is how a family ends up hurting each other and themselves during a time of tragedy. Toni Colette is depressingly realistic as a mother driven to the absolute edge (and as a consequence, takes her family down with her), sinking into a cloud of self-pity where she believes that everyone is against her. Few would go to the theater to watch something that sounds like a serious and weepy Meryl Streep drama that I would never consider giving a look. Fortunately, Aster ups the quirkiness (the movie begins with a zoom-in on a dollhouse) and the horror, and suddenly the saga of a dysfunctional family becomes super watchable. If Midsommar was really about a failed relationship and the need of an emotional support system, Hereditary is about how people in despair can get too easily sucked into running with dangerous manipulators. (Though even that is giving short shrift to something more multi-textural.)
  • 6.) Annihilation – This movie can at times be unsettling, but at the same time dares you to get lost in the beauty of The Shimmer. It’s a unique horror conceit: that the terror isn’t from physical threats but to lose one’s identity to something alien, unknowable, and alluring. Also, that creepy bear monster. The sound design of this movie is stellar.
  • 5.) Mission: Impossible – Fallout – About as ideal as an action movie can get. It’s rare in this day and age to marvel at a movie not because of the plots or the special effects but because of the stunts. I think the secret is that Tom Cruise doesn’t over do it. he’s not, technically, a superhero. By sticking, mainly, to practical stunts, you the viewer can put yourself in his shoes and feel the danger. It’s a rare quality that’s only recently being recaptured in film.
  • 4.) Avengers: Infinity War – The farther away I get from from Infinity War, the more I respect what this movie did. We live in a world where the movie public know who Thanos is. We had a blockbuster movie where Thor lifts a gate open so that the energy of a dying star can power his new hammer. Remember when studios would deliberately try to make superheroes grounded because they were afraid that anything fantastical would be rejected by the audience? Can you believe we got to a point where cosmic adventures are the norm?
  • 3.) Searching – If you view found footage as epistolary storytelling in film form, then Searching is ones of its finest examples. The genre is attached to the crime genre as John Cho takes to the internet to try to find his missing daughter. The action, limited to computer screens, is for the most part believable with Cho bouncing from several social media platforms, emails, and even online bank accounts to try to figure out who his daughter was. The movie is amazingly tense for something that takes place completely on computer screens (only cheating a couple of times — such as the final act, which is news footage). The twists and turns never failed to surprise me, and at the same time is a heck of a tightly plotted film. I wanted to stand up and clap at the end of this, and I was watching it alone and at home.
  • 2.) Crazy Rich Asians – As someone who doesn’t really do romantic comedies, Crazy Rich Asians roped me in by introducing an element that seems absent from other romcoms: the presence of cultural stakes. Very American attitudes of self-actualization meet the cold responsibility of family honor. Constance Wu has to navigate a world where politeness doesn’t necessarily mean friendship. In fact… it’s typically the opposite. This is also 2018’s best cinematic depiction of food. Good Lord, I’m hungry thinking about this movie.
  • 1.) Shirkers – My favorite movie of 2018 is a documentary. Shirkers follows the trials of a young woman trying to make a film as a nonconformist in Singapore. However, things go sideways in one of the most bizarre ways possible. Not only is the story intriguing… the way its told is intriguing. Prove positive, incidentally, that Sandi Tan really was a talent even when she was a young adult in the 90’s. It’s a documentary filmed with stunning visuals, much of them being of Tan’s original footage of a Singapore long gone. I’ve heard some call this a little bit of a true crime documentary. I can see it: the unsettling tone it takes early on keeps you on your toes. You’re waiting for something terrible to happen.

Honorable mention: Ready Player One (not joking), Venom, Ant-Man and The Wasp, Isle of Dogs, A Quiet Place

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