When I decided to become a “founder” of the Criterion Channel, I also decided to become a Film Snob™. I know it’s not really interesting to read about the taste(s) of others, but it’s my blog, & I’ll post what I want to. So, with the help of Trakt.tv, I will be recapping the movies I watched in the year 2019. This isn’t an exhaustive list of everything I watched this year. It is just my favorite movie I watched in each month. If you would like to see my entire watch history of the year, you can look at my Trakt.tv account here. At the time of writing this post, Trakt.tv is reporting that I watched two hundred thirty-two movies. That’s a total of three hundred eighty-three hours of content, & that’s just the stats for movies. Add TV shows to the mix, & I’ve watched over twelve hundred hours of content this year. Y’all, I’m single.
JanuaryClick here for all movies from January.
I only watched nine movies in January, which makes it one of the least-active months of my year. According to Trakt.tv, the first “movie” I watched was Taylor Swift’s Reputation Stadium Tour on Netflix. I’m not even a huge fan of Taylor Swift, but I’ll admit I didn’t hate the album reputation the first or twentieth time I heard it. I remember specifically watching the documentary just to see the stage production, because I knew Taylor Swift would have the budget to put on a great show. I can’t say I was disappointed in that regard. However, Taylor Swift’s tour documentary is unsurprisingly not my favorite movie I watched in January.
My choice for January is The Kindergarten Teacher (2018), directed by Sara Colangelo. I have one main thing to say about this movie: please marry me, Maggie Gyllenhaal (or Jake—I’m not too picky when it comes to the Gyllenhaals.)
This movie has everything: a five-year-old child actor reciting Vietnamese poems by memory, Maggie Gyllenhaal dressed in boho chic, a scene where the camera goes halfway under water while characters swim, & a kidnapping. What else could you want? It’s crazy to think that this movie is actually a remake of a movie from 2014, because the part of Lisa Spinelli seems tailor-made for Maggie Gyllenhaal.
FebruaryClick here for all movies from February.
This is the month when my Criterion Channel subscription kicked in, so I can easily say I started watching movies I wouldn’t have normally watched otherwise. These included movies like Chungking Express (1994), Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), & Tom Jones (1963). These movies let me know that my investment into the Criterion Channel was a worthwhile one. (Side note: I was very disappointed with The House That Jack Built . It has a lot of great components, but the final result is not something I plan on watching a second time anytime soon.)
I can easily say my favorite movie I watched in February is Stalker (1979), directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. Right off the bat, I can confidently say that this nearly three-hour Russian science fiction drama is not for everyone. There are plenty of parts of it that I’m not sure I “got,” but that doesn’t mean I regret watching it. I am a sucker for long shots & aesthetically pleasing cinematography (as opposed to all those people who hate movies that are unpleasing to look at—I’m unique!), & this movie is full of beautiful shots. IMDb reports that the average shot length is eighty-eight seconds. The movies starts in sepia tone, & then it is presented in full color, a-la The Wizard of Oz (1939).
Start this movie for the plot premise, & stay for the incredible imagery. If you really want to immerse yourself into this movie, read up about its history & production. This movie’s production was so tumultuous, it’s a miracle it was ever released at all. I don’t do psychedelics, but I imagine if I did, this movie would be my go-to trip generator. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) is shaking.
MarchClick here for all movies from March.
I only watched eight movies in March (I was busy bingeing season seven of Seinfeld), but that doesn’t mean I can’t pick a favorite. If I was a bigger fan of documentaries than I actually am, I might choose The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley (2019). Again, I don’t do psychedelics, but if I did, I might choose The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (1962). If I hated myself & movies altogether, I might choose Vox Lux (2018). That movie has no redeeming qualities, save for the long shot leading up to a teacher (spoiler) getting shot near the beginning of the movie.
But since I don’t do drugs, I prefer other genres over documentary, & I have somewhat of an affection toward myself on good days, my choice for March is Detour (1945), directed by Edgar G. Ulmer. This crime drama has an interesting plot, a breezy sixty-seven-minute runtime, & the true definition of a “femme fatale” in its co-lead Ann Savage as the sharp, quick-witted Vera. Ann Savage is the reason to watch this movie. I don’t use the following clichéd term lightly: Ann Savage’s performance as Vera is truly ahead of its time.
Wow, I love powerful women. This movie will put you off of picking up hitchhikers forever (assuming you have yet to see The Texas Chain Saw Massacre .) It might also make you glad corded phones are very nearly a thing of the past.
AprilClick here for all movies from April.
Only five movies were watched by me in April, making it my least-active month, but that doesn’t make choosing a favorite any less difficult. In fact, this small sample of movies contains some of the best I watched all year: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964), Last Hurrah for Chivalry (1979), Eraserhead (1977), The Elephant Man (1980), & Blue Velvet (1986). April was the month I dipped my toes into David Lynch’s filmography, & I can’t say I was disappointed. I keep notes about movies that affect me, & my note I put in my phone after watching Eraserhead is as follows: This is the scariest film I’ve ever seen wtf.
I think of the three Lynch movies I watched in April, I would choose The Elephant Man as my favorite. The fact that it might be the most accessible of Lynch’s movies is definitely a factor in that decision. It’s long, but it never drags. John Hurt’s performance as John Merrick, the eponymous “Elephant Man,” is incredible, & it is heartbreaking. I was rooting for him the entire time. That this movie is based on a true story makes it all the more impactful.
To keep things interesting, I’ll choose a second movie for the month of April. I never thought I would have a martial arts movie on a list of my favorite movies (unless I am allowed to count Kung Pow! Enter the Fist ), but that all changed after I watched Last Hurrah for Chivalry (1979), directed by John Woo. This is a martial arts movie about revenge, trust, sword fights, & a wizard who fights in his sleep. The action scenes are fantastically choreographed, & the comedy is highly enjoyable.
I’m not sure why IMDb only lists this movie as an action/drama movie. There is plenty of comedy. I mentioned the sleeping wizard, right?
MayClick here for all movies from May.
May is the month I was introduced to the Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke. I’d been aware of his movies Funny Games (1997) & The Piano Teacher (2001), but I had never actually watched any of his work until this month, starting with The Seventh Continent (1989). His movies are bleak, & I don’t think his die-hard fans would disagree if I said each of his movies has its own sort of gimmick, especially since I mean that in a very positive way. They are all unique, but once you’ve seen one, you can identify a Haneke movie from a mile away.
It might be the mainstream choice, but from what I’ve seen, Funny Games (1997) is my favorite movie directed by Michael Haneke & my favorite watched movie from the month of May. I don’t want to spoil it. If you feel like going to watch it, don’t read anything about it. It’s best to go in blind. You’ll love the way Haneke makes you hate his characters.
Side note: Funny Games is an Austrian movie, so the dialogue is German. In 2007, Haneke directed a shot-for-shot remake in English starring Naomi Watts. I haven’t seen it, but I’ve seen that it has generally favorable reviews. There are some going so far as to say it is better than the 1997 original. I can’t speak to the validity of those reviews, but I can speak to the validity of my love for Naomi Watts.
JuneClick here for all movies from June.
June is the month I decided to make my way through the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, starting with Iron Man (2008). I don’t think I’ll ever have a Marvel movie as one of my favorite movies, but I thought it was worth mentioning. I finally watched The Virgin Suicides (1999), directed by Sofia Coppola. Wow, just imagine being one of the Coppolas. Incredible.
I’m just now realizing how many dramas are on this list. Like I said, Last Hurrah for Chivalry is definitely a comedy, but it’s still a serious movie, so I’m happy to report my pick from June is Booksmart (2019), directed by Olivia Wilde. Remember when I said I love powerful women? Booksmart was written by women, directed by a woman, & stars women. I don’t want to classify this movie as a “women’s” comedy, because it’s stupid to gender things that don’t need to be gendered (my hair bun is not a “man“ bun. It’s a bun, because it’s hair.) This comedy is not a “women’s” comedy. It’s a comedy, because it’s a movie. That so many women worked on it is a plus, but it would be unfair to make that it’s whole identity as a movie.
Anyway, college thesis idea out of the way, Booksmart is a funny movie. I might go so far as to say that Booksmart is a hilarious movie. There’s so much young talent in this movie. It makes me question every decision my twenty-three-year-old self has made in my life. Billie Lourd, as usual, is the best part of every scene she is in, &, as usual, she is tragically underutilized. I read on IMDb that scenes were actually added for her once the filmmakers saw how impressive her performance was. I shudder at the thought of the first draft of the script that had less Billie Lourd.
JulyClick here for all movies from July.
July is more of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. (If anyone cares, I really like Captain America: The Winter Soldier .) I watched Tiny Furniture (2010). I’m still unsure whether or not it’s problematic to support Lena Dunham in 2019, but I will say that the fight scene between her & her (real-life) mother in the movie really stood out to me.
My pick for July is Ringu (1998), directed by Hideo Nakata. The Ring (2002), directed by Gore Verbinski & starring my darling Naomi Watts is one of my favorite movies of all time & certainly one of my favorite horror movies. Ringu is the original Japanese movie upon which The Ring is based. I hate to compare the two, but it was nearly impossible to not think about The Ring while watching Ringu. I certainly enjoy both movies, & they both do their own things very well. If I was forced to choose between the two, I would almost certainly pick The Ring. It has the bigger budget, a better (in my own opinion) special effect for “that” scene in the movies (you know what scene I’m talking about if you’ve seen either movie), & it expands on the backstory set-up by the original (admittedly, sometimes to a fault.)
All that being said, Ringu is the original, & it certainly isn’t a bad horror movie by any means. Perhaps I’m just more pre-disposed to the “Western” brand of horror, but I think that just makes Ringu’s ability to entertain & scare me all the more impressive.
AugustClick here for all movies from August.
Wow, I’m looking at the movies I watched in August, & it might be one of the best selections of the year for me. Thanks to the Criterion Channel, I discovered my love for director Pedro Almodóvar’s filmography. He’s now definitely one of my favorite directors. That’s somewhat cliché for a queer guy to say, but I’m still going to proudly say it. If you want to see the breadth of his capabilities as a filmmaker, watch Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988) followed by The Skin I Live In (2011). They are two completely different movies, but both are great in their own ways. (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is my favorite of the two.) I also began dipping my toes into the expansive filmography of famed (though, problematic) director D. W. Griffith. His movies are impressive in budget & scope, but they are truly the products of their time: white actors playing non-white characters never was & never will be an acceptable practice (unless that white actor is either Scarlett Johansson or Julia Roberts /s.) His movie Broken Blossoms (1919) is actually now one of my favorite movies, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that it stars a white actor playing a Chinese man. At least I can take solace in the knowledge that Griffith & all the people who worked on his movies are dead, & my viewing of them in 2019 is in no way financially supporting them or their warped ideals. These silent movies are objectionable for sure, but that doesn’t take away from the impact they still have on the movies we enjoy today: Broken Blossoms has a closet scene that looks suspiciously similar to the bathroom scene in The Shining (1980), & I don’t think it is completely out there to suggest that the camera & editing techniques in early silent movies like the infamous The Birth of a Nation (1915) have had some sort of butterfly effect on the works of ~*qUiRkY*~ directors like Wes Anderson. (For the record, I am a Wes Anderson fan.)
Anyway, while I really enjoyed Almodóvar’s movies & Broken Blossoms, my favorite movie from the month of August is a toss-up between Man Bites Dog (1992), Snowpiercer (2013), My Beautiful Laundrette (1985), & Harold and Maude (1971). These are all extremely different movies with two common threads: incredible performances & creative, unique premises.
Man Bites Dog is an extremely dark, hilarious mockumentary about a crew following a serial killer, recording his daily routine. The documentary-style gimmick never grows old, & a scene which involves the film crew bumping into another film crew caused me to laugh way harder than any movie in recent memory. Benoît Poelvoorde’s performance as the serial killer Ben is outrageous where it needs to be & subtle enough to make you briefly forget that this is all a work of fiction.
There is one scene that is perhaps too brutal, but I can justify its existence as a necessary reminder to the movie’s audience that Ben is not a good guy, no matter how charming he can so often be.
Snowpiercer is a post-apocalyptic movie that takes place entirely on a moving train, starting at the back & moving its way through to the front engine, starring America’s Ass himself, Chris Evans. It’s extremely imaginative in its world-building, & it is full of great performances. Tilda Swinton as Minister Mason is the highlight of this movie. She’s almost unrecognizable. It also has a small grade-school teacher part expertly played by Alison Pill, who I feel has yet to receive her well-earned big starring role.
This movie is being made into a TV series set to air on TNT in 2020. I initially scoffed at the idea, as the series will not star Tilda Swinton, & Snowpiercer without Tilda Swinton is not Snowpiercer to me, but then I learned it would star Jennifer Connelly (as a different character), so I’m going to have to at least watch the premiere out of respect to her. Side note: there is a semi-serious theory floating around on the internet that Snowpiercer may actually be a sequel to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971). It’s a fun thing to read about after watching both movies if you have a lot of free time one evening.
My Beautiful Laundrette is a low-budget, made-for-TV movie starring a young Daniel Day-Lewis. It’s almost depressing to see just how talented Daniel Day-Lewis was at such a young age, seeing as he has now (for the second time, I believe) officially retired from acting. He is a gift to this world, & I selfishly want him to make movies forever. This movie has everything: a dark alley kissing scene, a laundromat, skinheads, a new way to drink champagne that you’ll be eager to try, & a score that consists of bubbles popping years before PC Music was even a thing.
It’s a surreal drama that has so many ideas it wants to share, it’s a wonder it was able to reach any sort of resolution. It has its flaws, but it’s so sincere in its delivery, it’s hard to linger on any of them for too long. Daniel Day-Lewis should be in every movie.
Finally, Harold and Maude is another dark comedy with an extremely touching character-driven drama at its center. It’s so enjoyable to watch that I can say right now that I would not trust anyone who dislikes this movie. The two leads in this movie both make it impossible to look away from the screen.
This is another one of those movies where I think it’s best if you go into it without knowing anything about it. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll blow bubbles in bed.
SeptemberClick here for all movies from September.
September was a month for exploring some queer™ movies: Looking: The Movie (2016), The Heroes of Evil (2015), Wild Reeds (1994), Speed Walking (2014), Free Fall (2013), & Geography Club (2013). I enjoyed Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance in Netflix’s Velvet Buzzsaw (2019), though I didn’t care for the movie itself. I was moved by the quiet Kaili Blues (2015). It has a forty-minute long shot. Forty-minutes of footage with no cuts. It nearly made me cry. I really meant it when I said I’m a sucker for long shots.
My favorite movie I watched in September is without a doubt A Room with a View (1985), directed by James Ivory. I strongly believe if more men watched this movie, the world would be a more peaceful place. It’s just such a pleasant movie. It’s not laugh-out-loud funny, but Maggie Smith & Daniel Day-Lewis bring great humor with their performances. It’s refreshing to go back & watch a young Helena Bonham Carter in a subtle, pre-Tim Burton role.
A Room with a View is quiet, romantic, contemplative, & comedic. As per usual, Daniel Day-Lewis steals the show. His screen time is criminally low in this movie. Fun fact: He filmed this extremely close to My Beautiful Laundrette. If you want to see his incredible range of talent as an actor, especially at a young age, watch My Beautiful Laundrette & A Room with a View back-to-back.
OctoberClick here for all movies from October.
I’ll start October off by saying that Man of Steel (2013) is one of (if not the) greatest superhero movies I have ever seen. Granted, I don’t know anything about comic books, but I really don’t understand all the issues so many people seemed to have with this movie. I understand the negative reviews for other DC Comics movies, but I think a lot of Man of Steel’s criticism is undeserved.
My choice for October is Trainspotting (1996), directed by Danny Boyle. Yes, I had to watch this with subtitles because the accents were too strong. No, I probably won’t ever watch this again. It’s funny, it’s brutal, it’s imaginative, it’s tragic, & it’s full of terrifying babies.
Drugs are bad. This movie is not. I’ll watch the sequel one day probably. Choose life.
NovemberClick here for all movies from November.
Forty-eight movies mean November was my most-active month. I’d blame it on the cold weather, but it’s not like I leave the house when the weather is nice. Greener Grass (2019) was so surreal. I can see myself watching it multiple times in the future & getting something new out of it every time. Haunt (2019) started out promising & had a very creative set design, but it quickly fell apart. Enemy (2013) was unlike anything that I’ve watched before, & it has that final scene that many have said is the scariest in movie history. I don’t know about that, but it did catch me off guard enough to make me jump. Midnight Cowboy (1969) (nice) contains an incredible performance by Dustin Hoffman, but what we’re not going to do is support Jon Voight from now on. The barn building scene in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) is truly breathtaking. They honestly just don’t make movies like that anymore. The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019) made me happy that Shia LaBeouf has not completely quit acting for his art experiments. I watched a couple Gene Kelly movies, & I have to say that I respect Gene Kelly.
I’m torn between Thunder Road (2018), directed by Jim Cummings, & Where is the Friend’s House? (1987), directed by Abbas Kiarostami, as my favorite for November. Thunder Road was written & directed by Jim Cummings, who also stars in the lead role as a divorced police officer dealing with the death of his mother. I haven’t looked into it, but I would be very surprised if the story wasn’t autobiographical of Jim Cummings’s life.
When this movie gets dark, it gets very dark, & when this movie gets funny, it gets very funny. Cummings expertly shifts between dramatic & comedic throughout the script. The dialogue is very real. I actually suspect a lot of it must have been ad-libbed. I’m very excited to see what he comes up with next.
Where is the Friend’s House? has the simplest plot of all the movies on this list: Ahmed, an eight-year-old Iranian boy, mistakenly takes his friend’s school notebook home, so he leaves home to return it, not fully knowing where his friend lives. That’s it, but what director Abbas Kiarostami is able to do with that simple premise in the eighty-three-minute runtime is nothing short of extraordinary.
Kiarostami, who is known for casting non-actors in his movies, was able to extract incredible performances from his actors. The desperation Ahmed feels when trying to convince his mother (to no avail) to let him leave home & return the notebook is palpable. The very final shot of this movie actually made me cheer out loud. I don’t think I’ve ever done that during a movie.
Choosing between these two is difficult. Thunder Road’s success comes from the complexity of its star’s performance, while Where is the Friend’s House?’s success comes from its simplicity. It’s probably pointless to try to choose a favorite between the two. I’ll never be disappointed by watching either.
DecemberClick here for all movies from December.
The 2019 live-action remake of Lady and the Tramp was cute enough. Gemini Man (2019) was a mess. Angela (1995) made me uncomfortable in ways I don’t like a movie to make me uncomfortable, but it was a nice surprise to see a young Frances Conroy. It’s only December sixth, so it does seem silly to pick my favorite for this month, but if Spotify Wrapped can tell me my favorite songs of the year without factoring in December, then I can do the same with movies.
The Farewell (2019) is cute, funny, & sad. I’m catching on to the pattern in most of my favorite movies: funny & sad. I was first exposed to Awkwafina in the hilarious Hulu original series Future Man, & I knew I loved her with my whole heart.
If you’ve heard any of the rave reviews for this movie, I would say you should probably slightly temper your expectations before watching it. It’s good, & it’s definitely the best movie I’ve seen in December so far, but I’m sure I’ll see something better after I publish this blog post.
This article was updated on December 6, 2019