Jack Kolodziejski’s Favorite Movies of 2019
2019 was full of plenty of great movies that I really loved, but none left such a deep impression, such a burning fissure on my brain as the hellish digital nightmare that is Thomas Hooper’s CATS. I truly, deeply disliked watching this movie. I counted down every second until the end of its punishing 110 minutes runtime. I even closed my eyes at one point, desperately trying to force myself to sleep as an escape. And yet, now that I have gazed upon the cosmic horror of this criminal film, I can’t shake it from my mind. When I close my eyes, I’m haunted by the ghastly visage of Macavity’s nude cat body. The yowling siren song of Mister Mistoffelees is seared into my brain through its ceaseless repetition. I’m beginning to concern my wife; as I lay awake babbling on about the Jellicle cats, with their Jellicle lives, their Jellice songs, their Jellicle woes, it’s as if I’ve been infected with toxoplasma gondii, the brain parasite contracted through contact with cat feces that causes its victims to become mentally unwell. Please, please, someone help me.
Anyway, here are ten other movies that I really liked in 2019!
10. TIE: Braid/Hagazussa
I spent a long time, probably too long (sorry, Bernadette) deliberating between Braid and Hagazussa for the tenth spot on my list. Ultimately, I decided I’d rather represent them both on my list because I think they share a lot in common, and they both deserve more attention. Both are first time features from young writers/directors. Both have striking and unique visual styles. Both are tales that warp and mutate as they go along, leading to ultimately surreal conclusions. Both are among the most fascinating and impressive horror films I’ve seen in recent years. I encourage anyone interested in modern horror to check these two films out.
Shadow features the most striking visuals I’ve seen all year. The film’s palette consists of inky blacks and bright whites, occasionally disrupted by a splatter of crimson. Upon these striking colors are beautifully choreographed fight scenes that are often more akin to ballet than to martial arts. Shadow’s dramatic, slow-motion set pieces use rain in an exceptionally clever way that further accentuates its visual flair. Couple that with a thrilling, twisty story and you’ve got yourself one hell of a great martial arts movie.
Ari Aster had a lot to prove in his follow up to the excellent Hereditary. With Midsommar, he shows that he has a knack for much more than straightforward horror. I loved Midsommar’s inversion of the traditional horror lighting and palette, trading shows and deep colors for broad daylight and bright pastels. As a thematic piece, Midsommar deftly incorporates its ideas of grief, loneliness, healing and acceptance into the unsettling horrors it portrays. The arcs of its characters are well defined and fully fleshed out, which is too often underutilized in horror. It also manages to portray psychedelics in an accurate and non-embarrassing way, which deserves to be commended.
7. Uncut Gems
The Safdie Brothers have an uncanny ability to create frantic, manic energy in film. Uncut Gems has such raw aggression and momentum that I nearly sprinted out of the theater to start a crime spree. Sandler is absolutely on fire throughout the film, expertly carrying the weight of every increasingly anxiety-inducing moment on his shoulders. On paper, this sounds like it would be a deeply unpleasant thing to watch. And while it is certainly abrasive, the Safdie's manage to achieve all of this tension in such a gripping way that the film is infectious and undeniable.
The hype around Parasite feels like it has hit critical mass. The discourse surrounding it has gone on seemingly all year, with even the clueless elites it so blatantly criticizes showering it in praise. Parasite has become so unanimously loved, that it almost came as no surprise when it racked up a ton of Oscar nominations, which is a paradox, really. It’s a miracle that such a fresh, engaging, and truly deserving movie is actually getting the widespread recognition it deserves. The true power of Parasite is that it’s such a nuanced and contemplative exploration of class and capitalism, fully integrated into an endlessly entertaining movie that is simultaneously funny, thrilling, terrifying, and moving. Parasite really does have it all, and it deserves every last bit of recognition it receives. I love every movie on this list, but Parasite is probably the only one I would recommend to just about everyone.
5. The Irishman
While I’ve always held a deep respect and appreciation for his work, Martin Scorsese’s movies have never been among my favorites. The mob crime drama genre has never really been my thing. Which is why The Irishman took me by such surprise. Sure, there’s still a healthy amount of super Italian mob gusto at play here, and much of that doesn’t really hit me. What did strike me, though, is how much of The Irishman is a solemn and melancholy reflection on loyalty, friendship, and regret. De Niro’s portrayal of Frank Sheeran, a man whose dedication to following orders ultimately leaves him with nothing but a lonely emptiness, absolutely devastated me. A lifetime of craft is on display here, as Scorsese’s mastery of pacing, lighting, and composition makes for one of the most impeccably well made films of 2019. In a way, The Irishman feels like a culmination of masters at work.
4. The Art of Self-Defense
The Art of Self-Defense is no doubt the funniest movie I saw in 2019. Riley Stearns’ bone dry comedy about a mild-mannered man finding confidence through martial arts, had me laughing out loud throughout. It’s a bleak and absurd dark comedy that explores toxic masculinity through a killer lead performance by Jesse Eisenberg, and a surprisingly excellent support lead from Alessandro Nivola. My own time practicing martial arts contributed to a lot of my enjoyment of this one, although it was fortunately a much different experience. Either way, the combo of dark absurdist comedy and the familiar dojo setting hit me in exactly the right nostalgic sweet spot.
3. Honey Boy
From Even Stevens to his reckless days in avant-garde art installations, to his recent fascinating interview on Hot Ones, Shia LaBeouf has always felt more like an enigmatic character than a traditional actor. Honey Boy is an unflinchingly earnest movie that instantly made everything about that character click, and revealed the deeply flawed and genuine human underneath. I won’t lie to you, dear reader, this movie left me a bleary-eyed weeping mess. Without any context: Alma Har’el’s Honey Boy is a beautiful movie with knockout performances by Noah Jupe, Lucas Hedges and Shia LaBeouf. With the added knowledge that LaBeouf wrote the script while attending court ordered rehab as a way to work through the trauma of his own childhood, Honey Boy is a fearless and truly special film.
2. The Lighthouse
The Lighthouse wins the award for “Most Entirely My Shit” movie of 2019. It’s no secret that I’m borderline obsessed with Robert Egger’s first film, The VVitch, and so it’d be an understatement that I was counting down the days until I could see his follow up. It easily met all of my expectations and more. While I think The VVitch may have been misrepresented by its marketing, The Lighthouse has always worn its weirdo badge right on its sleeve. The simple premise of two men stranded together in a lighthouse is a perfect backdrop for my two favorite performances of the year. As Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson’s characters descend deeper into madness, the atmospheric dread Eggers is so adept at achieving congeals and thickens like a dense fog. The production design is likewise expectedly flawless, and Egger’s trademark attention to historic detail creates a setting that feels both textured and distinct, while dreamlike and surreal. This is one film I’ll no doubt be coming back to again and again.
1. High Life
It’s not lost on me that my top two favorite movies of 2019 both prominently feature Robert Pattinson ejaculating. I’m pretty sure that’s just a coincidence. My love for The Lighthouse was more or less a given from the start. High Life, on the other hand, totally took me by surprise. I watched this one way back at the start of the year, and it has stuck with me ever since. I distinctly remember the sense of awe I felt as the credits rolled, a sense that lingered on for days. It’s the kind of film that gets under your skin and stays there. Claire Denis has created a brutal, cold take on a sci-fi space thriller. Her vision of a dystopian near future explores the grim and inhuman darkness of the prison-industrial complex. And yet, there is a warmth in the void of this darkness, thanks to Pattinson's role as an unwitting surrogate father. It all culminates in a magical ending that sent me plunging into the deep rabbit hole of black hole Youtube videos and Wikipedia entries. That’s the kind of film that doesn’t come around very often, and it’s why High Life is easily my favorite film of the year.
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Jack makes drugs for a living, but not necessarily the fun kind. He enjoys international travel and discussing music, movies, and games in excruciating detail.