I am the most timely of people. What better time to name one’s favorite movies and TV shows of a year than November of the following year? Such timelines.
In all seriousness, sorry it’s taken me so long to get around to this. Between my early flip-flopping of making this list to getting distracted with other posts to, well, 2020 being what it is, a lot of the stuff I had planned for this site this year fell by the wayside (I plan to pick up the pieces, but the past several months have definitely done a number on my mental health, so apologies that it may take a little longer still).
Because I’ve delayed this list for so incredibly long, I’ve decided to do things a little differently this time around. Instead of writing an article about why one movie was my favorite of the year, or doing a proper top 10 list, I’m just going to list the movies and TV shows of 2019 that won me over the most, and write some explanation as to why they managed to do just that.
So without further ado, in no particular order, here – finally – is my list of favorite movies and TV shows from 2019.
Otherwise known as “That Star Wars Thing That People Actually Like,” The Mandalorian has basically been keeping Star Wars alive after The Last Jedi gutted the franchise of logical storytelling and entertainment, and The Rise of Skywalker sent the franchise into the realms of nonsense as a result.
I admit, I wasn’t won over by The Mandalorian from the start. The very first episode is a bit of a slog, and doesn’t really feel like a proper introduction to its lead character (the titular Mandalorian, portrayed by Pedro Pascal) or his journey. But it’s still a decent enough piece of entertainment and, more importantly, after that first episode the series picks up considerably.
What makes The Mandalorian work so well, and why it’s the best use of the Star Wars IP in who knows how long, is because of its more small-scale, personal narrative: The Mandalorian is a bounty hunter who captures his targets without prejudice. But one of his bounties turns out to be a child (simply referred to as “The Child” in the series, but dubbed “Baby Yoda” by fans, due to being a part of the same species as the iconic Jedi Master), and suddenly the Mandalorian has a change of heart. The protection of this child becomes his new purpose, and the Mandalorian dedicates his abilities to finding a safe place for the Child to grow up, which of course is easier said than done, as the Child is the target of bounty hunters all across the Galaxy, as well as remnants of the Empire.
By taking the Star Wars universe, using the western genre as a backdrop, and focusing its story on a more intimate character dynamic (mercifully, not a single planet gets blown up for once), and The Mandalorian is the Star Wars story I didn’t even realize I’ve been waiting for. Top it off with countless references to the greater Star Wars franchise (from the original trilogy and prequels to The Clone Wars TV series, Rogue One and video games to even the dreaded Star Wars Holiday Special) as well as seemingly random cameos from all across the entertainment world, and this Disney+ series has earned its place as the streaming service’s premiere original product.
This is the way.
Stranger Things 3
Stranger Things is a great series. But suffice to say the second season lacked the more direct focus of the first (in particular, the seventh episode of the second season is the only flat-out bad episode in the series, and seemingly has no purpose for existing). Thankfully, season 3 was a return to form, lacking any filler and playing more like the first season, while also differentiating itself with new characters and settings, and continuing to develop the returning characters.
The town of Hawkins is once again the target of the Upside Down and its Lovecraftian ruler, the Mind Flayer. But the town now has a corrupt mayor (portrayed by Cary Elwes, continuing the show’s love of all things 80s), a group of Russian bad guys trying to find their way into the Upside Down (because if there’s one element of the 80s that was missing from the previous seasons, it was Russian bad guys), and of course, a new shopping mall, which ends up being a key location for much of the season.
The beloved characters make a return: from the core group of youths Mike, Eleven, Will, Lucas, Dustin and Max, as well as police chief Hopper, Joyce Byers, Jonathan and Nancy, the returning cast of characters are all given more time to grow and develop (some more than others, admittedly). Perhaps none have seen as much character development as former bully Steve Harrington, whose character has grown greatly from his simple “80s bully” archetype of the first season into one of the show’s most heroic characters.
We’re all still eagerly anticipating the delayed (for obvious reasons) fourth season of Stranger Things, here’s hoping it can match up to the series’ standard.
1917 was a pleasant surprise. I mean, there’ve been many Great War movies through the decades, but if I’m being honest, nothing about the trailers for 1917 suggested it would be a standout. But after it received a glowing reception upon release, and became a sudden favorite, my curiosity piqued. Boy, was I happy I decided to see it in theaters.
Filmed in such a way to make the film feel like it’s all done in one long shot, 1917 is gripping from start to finish. Rarely does it ease up on its suspense and tension.
The plot is simple enough: Two Lance Corporals, Tom Blake and William Shofield, are sent on a mission to deliver a message to call off an attack doomed to end in disaster. The film then follows their journey, as the lives of thousands of soldiers depend on whether or not Tom and William can make it to their destination alive.
1917 is a hell of a war movie, and one of the most engrossing films I’ve seen in quite some time.
They did it. Somehow, Marvel managed to pull it off. A satisfying culmination of eleven years and twenty-two movies of storytelling. Boy, did Avengers: Endgame deliver.
I remember as the end credits of Avengers: Endgame rolled, I had the rare feeling that I just watched a movie unlike any I’d seen before, and likely won’t see again. I know some snooty Scorsese-types would mock me for that, and sure, Endgame does employ some familiar beats and tropes. But in regards to how everything in Endgame came together, bringing a conclusion to the ongoing plot threads of the MCU, as well as some of its premiere heroes and franchises (while continuing others), was a herculean cinematic feat that I still can’t believe they managed to accomplish.
There have been many “finales” in film franchises over the years, particularly since the dawn of the new millennium, but usually the franchises fall apart by the end. Very rarely is the final act also its best. While The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King – appropriate to its title – remains the king in regards to beautiful, satisfying conclusions, Avengers: Endgame probably earns the silver medal in that category.
Yes, the Marvel Cinematic Universe will go on, they’ll have other interconnected stories to tell. But do I think the MCU, much less anyone else, will be willing (let alone being able to pull off) another eleven years and twenty-two films of intertwined narrative, and be able to cap it off in such an epic, satisfying way? No I don’t.
So yes, Avengers: Endgame is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in that sense. And I don’t think I’ll be seeing anything quite like it again.
When Frozen was released in 2013, it became a worldwide phenomenon, and I will argue to the death that it’s the single greatest Disney movie ever made by quite some margin. Frozen II thus had a hefty act to follow, and while it may not quite match its predecessor on the whole, in certain areas it recaptures the magic that made the world fall in love with Frozen in the first place.
Stunningly beautiful animation, a god-tier soundtrack, immensely likable characters, Frozen II has it all. And perhaps most interestingly, Frozen II does seemingly everything in its power to differentiate itself from its predecessor, when Disney could have easily made billions with a copy-and-paste sequel.
Frozen II is a darker, more serious movie than the first film, and doubles down on the fantasy elements of its world. Yes, it’s still a movie for kids, but like the best kids’ movies, it treats its target audience with respect, and (rightfully) trusts that they are capable of appreciating a more sophisticated story.
I’ve unfortunately heard some people claim Frozen II “takes itself too seriously.” But why shouldn’t it? Frozen has more or less become the film of a generation of children, so why shouldn’t its sequel treat itself seriously? Children deserve serious stories as much as anyone else. And it’s not like Frozen II is total deadpan doom and gloom. Quite contrary, it’s still a film about a magical queen, her quirky princess sister, and a talking snowman, after all. It’s still fun and funny. It just also trusts children don’t need a bombardment of loud noise and bathroom jokes *Cough! Minions! Cough!* in order to be entertained.
Frozen II is possibly the most enjoyable animated sequel since Toy Story 2, and no doubt one of 2019’s best films.
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance
Jim Henson’s 1982 film The Dark Crystal is wondrously imaginative, but only so-so as a movie. The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is an exceptional series that creates a story and characters worthy of the world Jim Henson created all those years ago. And while the series is insurmountably better than the movie that inspired it, it does retroactively make the 1982 film more meaningful. To be great is already a hefty achievement. But to also give new meaning to a work from years past is quite the rarity.
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance brings audiences back to the world of Thra. Its cast of characters and creatures are brought to life entirely with puppetry, but the show becomes so engrossing, exciting, dramatic and fun, that I honestly forgot I was watching a puppet show, and just became swept away by the story. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I honestly believe The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is the best cinematic fantasy epic I’ve seen since The Lord of the Rings. It creates great original characters such as the heroic and free -spirited Gelfling Deet, and expands and fleshes out the returning characters from the 1982 film, with the Skeksis Chamberlain (brilliantly voiced by Simon Pegg) being a particular highlight, turning him into one of the great fantasy villains. Though this list isn’t ordered, if I were to name my single favorite piece of entertainment from 2019, it might just be The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance.
Aaaaaand Netflix cancelled it after one season…
Yes, tragically, Netflix’s gross habit of giving up on their best shows if they aren’t an immediate home run with audiences reared its ugly head in the worst possibly way this past September (about a year after the series’ debuted) when they announced they had axed this Jim Henson masterpiece. Unfortunately, we live in a time where more people would rather watch a redneck abuse tigers than can appreciate a good fantasy.
Hopefully Netflix will come to their senses and renew the series. Or maybe someone else can pick it up and continue where season 1 left off. But even if it doesn’t come to that, at least The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance managed to provide ten episodes of nearly perfect fantasy storytelling, filled with the kind of earnest imagination that is often far too absent in the works of today.
Runners-up (in no particular order)
It: Chapter 2
Fighting with my Family
And there you have it, folks! Sorry this may not be my most detailed (or even decisive) list, and apologies if it seemed a bit rushed. But even with how long I had put this off, I still wanted to get it done. So sorry if the end result feels a little thrown together. I mean, it’s November for Pete’s sake, the fact that I still decided to do this list at this point should amount to something. At least, I like to think so.
Maybe some day I’ll elaborate more on my favorite things from 2019 (one of my more busy years in regards to how many movies I saw). But for now, here’s hoping I can be a wee bit more timely with my equivalent 2020 list.
Hopefully you enjoyed at least something from this list. Sorry again it took me so damn long. Boy, I miss 2019…