When we created last year’s preview of 2019 movies we were pretty sure we were going to have some great movies this year, but we were surprised by what ended up being the best.  All year we tried to keep up with what Hollywood had to offer and homed in on the genre content we thought was worth examining.  We went back and looked at it all and pulled together our annual picks in our Best Movies of 2019.

GenredomAs always, we’re after the best genre content of the year–with our top categories from the Best in Movies.  There are thousands of other places that cover plain vanilla dramas and the rest of the film world, but here we’re looking for movies we want to watch.  What do all of this year’s selections have in common?  In addition to those elements that define each part of genredom, each has a good story.  Special effects without a good story is not good entertainment, and we saw plenty of films this year that missed that crucial element.

Come back later this month for our print media picks, and our annual borg Hall of Fame inductees.  And if you missed it, check out our Best Kick-Ass Genre Heroines of 2019 here.  Wait no further, here are our movie picks for 2019:

Best Film, Best Superhero Movie, Best Re-Imagining on Film Shazam! (Warner Bros.).  Movies are supposed to be a wonder, right?  What brought the magic of the movies back to theaters more than Shazam?  Why did DC take so long to adapt a superhero to the scene perfectly?  Who cares–they finally did it.  Faithful to the character from the #1 selling superhero book of the 1940s, this was the superhero movie many of us have been waiting for for the past 50 years (or more).  Full of superhero fun, one of the best training montages ever, Zachary Levi’s boyish hero was perfectly matched to Jack Dylan Grazer’s take on best pal Freddy.  It’s also the only superhero movie we can think of that got better as it went along, culminating in a fantastic, satisfying third act and finale.  This is what we want more of.  And it was the first DC superhero movie of the millennium that could be watched and enjoyed by the entire family.  Honorable mention: Glass (Universal), Spider-Man: Far From Home (Sony Pictures).

Best Fantasy Movie, Best Adventure Movie, Best Comedy MovieJumanji: The Next Level (Columbia Pictures).  The only issue with this film was that its status as a sequel will prompt some to not recognize it for the gigantic success it truly is.  With adventure scenes bigger and better than anything in the entire Indiana Jones franchise, two movies in and director Jake Kasdan proved a sequel can actually be as good as the original.  The four stars didn’t miss a beat, swapping roles and adding new laughs, and the new characters inside and outside the game were perfectly spliced in to tell a new tale.  The bridge crossing scene is now the adventure film scene to beat.  An epic fantasy that’s loads of fun.  Honorable mention for Best Fantasy Movie: Shazam! (Disney/Marvel), Captain Marvel (Disney/Marvel).

Best Movie Borg, Best Borg Film – Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Carl, Terminator: Dark Fate (Paramount Pictures).  It would have been almost impossible for James Cameron and director Tim Miller not to get this right, a new thread through time reuniting Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor and a new T-800 with Arnold back with another take on his greatest borg of all time.  New characters and new effects kept the franchise from getting boring, but this was more than just getting by, a big sci-fi spectacle with great cyborg battles, and easily the best cyborg fix this year.

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Best Sci-Fi/Space Fantasy Movie, Best Retro Fix – Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Lucasfilm/Disney).  It’s success was salvaging the final trilogy in the Skywalker saga, bringing Rey back front and center as the key character of the arc, having some of the saga’s best “Jedi being Jedi” sequences, and tapping into the nostalgia for the first film.  If only Abrams had made all three films, the whole story would have had much needed cohesion.  Sure there are lots of problems in the necessary patchwork after the last entry, but as an Abrams movie, it will go down as one of his better efforts.

Best Costumes, Best Makeup/De-aging, Runner-up: Best Sci-Fi/Space Fantasy Movie and Best Retro FixCaptain Marvel (Disney/Marvel).  That’s right–Captain Marvel was a better sci-fi movie than it was a superhero tale, but it wasn’t bad at superheroics either.  A space conflict in the vein of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, the surprise twisting of roles of good and bad between the Kree and Skrulls, the ships, and battles were superior than those created in other franchises this year, making Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel a great new sci-fi screen heroine.  Sanja Hays’s diverse array of costumes ranged from a first-ever Captain Marvel uniform, plus Kree and Skrull outfits, and 1990s and early retro costumes for all of those flashback scenes–all stylish and new.  And we got the best Nick Fury scenes in the entire franchise with some great de-aging effects.

Best Drama, Best Movie Musical Score – The Highwaymen (Netflix).   Story makes the movie–any movie–and it’s why this film was the best, most accurate, historical, and entertaining of all in its categories this year.  Suspenseful like Kevin Costner’s early The Untouchables, while not contrived, the script provided a true to life tale of the men who finally took down Bonnie and Clyde.  A welcome pleasure in stark contrast with the many movies making criminals into heroes.  And Thomas Newman′s score to The Highwaymen was even better than his much lauded score this year for 1917–far more lyrical, with subtle contrasts and truly evocative instrumentation–a real treat for the senses.  Honorable mention for Best Drama: Motherless Brooklyn (Warner Bros.) Glass (Universal Pictures), All is True (Sony Pictures Classics).  Honorable mention for Best Movie Musical Score: Motherless Brooklyn (Warner Bros.) Daniel Pemberton, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Michael Giacchino (Sony Pictures).

Best Animated MovieKlaus (Netflix).  Holiday films often don’t get the credit they deserve, but writer/director Sergio Pablos’s alternate story of Santa Claus reinvented the classic method of animation, introducing miraculous new lighting and shading techniques.  The result was an attractive new movie for repeat viewing each December, while also as worthy as its big budget competition.  Runners-up: Spies in Disguise (Blue Sky Studios), The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part (Warner Animation Group).

Best Action Movie, Best Direct-to-Streaming Movie, Best Special Effects6 Underground (Netflix).  Ignore the boring Michael Bay haters, we know an exciting film when we see it.  The only reason to frown at direct-to-streaming releases is missing the opportunity to see this one on the biggest screen available.  Every scene was a blood pumping set up for the next new action spectacle–exactly what fans want.  An easy choice for a new franchise, it all begins with a big winner.  Honorable mention (both categories): Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (Universal Pictures) and The Aeronauts (Netflix).

Best Horror Movie, Best Suspense/ThrillerReady Or Not (Fox Searchlight).  Skip the yawn-worthy Knives Out for this crazy, fun ride.  Tight writing, a great cast of actors, and add in the perfect estate setting for murder, and you have Ready Or Not.  It’s like Quentin Tarentino bought the rights to direct a Clue remake and merged it with another Kill Bill sequel.  A surprise low-budget hit.  Honorable mention: Happy Death Day 2U (Universal Pictures).

Best Cinematography, Best Director, Runner-Up: Best MakeupAll is True, director Kenneth Branagh (Sony Pictures Classics).  Like last year’s Roma, the William Shakespeare biopic All is True is one of those rare films where every frame is pure artistry.  Vanessa White and prosthetics expert Neill Gorton made Branagh look like the writer’s portrait.  A quiet, thoughtful, stunning masterpiece.  Honorable mention for Best Cinematography: Motherless Brooklyn (Warner Bros.),  Glass (Universal Pictures), The Highwaymen (Netflix).  Honorable mention for Best Director: Edward Norton (Motherless Brooklyn), M. Night Shyamalan, Glass (Universal Pictures).

Best Action SceneOne activates the Magnetic Pulse, 6 Underground (Netflix).  Never before has one movie owned this category unequivocally.  Michael Bay reset the standard for action movies this year, and the new magnetic pulse weapon was surprising and fantastically filmed–one of those standout moments like the first time you watched the car chase in Bullitt.  Honorable mentionThe ape bridge crossing sequence, Jumanji: The Next Level; The opening car chase, 6 UndergroundThe skyscraper infiltration 6 Underground; The opening car chase, Motherless Brooklyn.

Best Actress – Samara Weaving (Ready Or Not).  Samara Weaving’s role as Grace in Ready Or Not was somewhat like Marisa Tomei’s Oscar-winning role in My Cousin Vinny, which required a mastery of timing, humor, and projecting an honest, real person on the screen.  For Weaving, it required the emotions of a new bride on the day of her wedding, combined with the perceived pleasantries of meeting a new family, the secret honest conversations with her groom, and a fight to the death while not being a martial arts master or action hero-trained actor, and in so doing, killing lots of people–all while affecting an American accent.  In a year with a lot of the same, canned characters, Grace was a good surprise.  Honorable mention: Felicity Jones (The Aeronauts), Sarah Paulson (Glass).

Best Supporting Actress – Karen Gillan (Avengers: Endgame).  Who was the biggest hero of Avengers: Endgame?  Not Tony Stark, but Karen Gillan’s sometimes psychotic, sometimes brave cyborg daughter of Thanos.   With all the makeup you might overlook Gillan’s expert take on a dual role performance.  The best actors make it look easy.  Honorable mention: Hilary Swank (I Am Mother).

Best ActorKenneth Branagh (All is True).  As good as Branagh’s many roles as Shakespeare’s characters, the role of the writer could not have been handled more deftly by anyone else.  Perhaps the finest actor to utter the words of the great Bard of Avon, his sensitive handling of Shakespeare’s final year is why we like biopics.  Honorable mention: Edward Norton (Motherless Brooklyn), Kevin Costner (The Highwaymen), Dane DeHaan (The Kid). 

Best Supporting Actor – Jack Dylan Grazer (Shazam!).  Sure, Grazer is a kid actor, but he sure convinced us of his mastery of his craft.  His Freddy was the real star of the show, a good kid with tough circumstances, bullied and trying to make a new friend and help his family.  He created a character with equal bravery and heroics to the show’s title superhero.  Honorable mention: Woody Harrelson (The Highwaymen), Ben Mendelsohn (Captain Marvel).

Best Movie Villain or Villain Fakeout Ben Mendelsohn as Telos/Keller in Captain Marvel.  A great trope is telling audiences who the villain is and later revealing it was all a trick.  Mendelsohn is the recent go-to actor for villainy, and here he played the villain as evil as ever.  But surprise–that made him a sympathetic alien in distress worth saving.  And the result is one of Marvel’s best realized supporting characters.  Honorable mention: Jake Gyllenhaal as Mysterio in Spider-Man: Far From Home.

Best Sidekick – Goose (Captain Marvel).  Nick Fury wouldn’t be as cool without her.  And she did save the day a few times, too.  Runner-upFreddy (Shazam!).

Best Documentary: Three Identical Strangers (CNN Films).  Obscure stories make great documentaries, and the story of triplets separated at birth fit right in.  A smartly edited story, it was an oddly suspenseful snippet of past news of the weird.  Honorable mention: Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World (First Run Features), Chasing Portraits (First Run Features).

Best Retro Fix(tie) The Muppet Movie and Field of Dreams return to theaters (Fathom Events).  For Field of Dreams it commemorated thirty years.  For The Muppet Movie, it was forty years.  We didn’t know it would be the last time we’d watch the Muppets classic as it was meant to be seen before the passing of Big Bird actor Caroll Spinney earlier this month, but we’re grateful to have had the opportunity once again.  And Field of Dreams’ success as an American classic shows no signs of waning–the real field is getting a recreation game of MLB pros next year.

Best Home ReleaseShazam! (Warner Bros.).  Reviewed here, the best content on the home release examined how the lead actors filmed their aerial scenes.  Other great features and surprises include an alternate ending, 37 minutes of cut scenes, documentaries approaching the comics and character from different viewpoints, a shot by shot scene study, and a motion comic.

Best Superhero Scene: “Say My Name,” The Marvel Family from the comic books debuts in Shazam! (Warner Bros.).  It was such a surprise that director David F. Sandberg and writer Henry Gayden went for it.  The story of comic books’ beloved “big red cheese” included the entire Marvel family in its first screen adaptation (although we’ll never hear DC call it that).  A triumph for comic book readers and superhero fans, and an emotional high point of a superb movie.

Come back tomorrow as we reveal more of the borg Best of 2019!  And don’t forget to check out our Best Kick-Ass Genre Heroines of 2019 here.

C.J. Bunce
Editor
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