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Best Movies of the First Half of 2019

George Wolf George Wolf Best Movies of the First Half of 2019
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The year is half over. What?! Stop it right now.

It’s true, and it has already been one hell of a year for film—documentary, in particular.

We’ve seen performances sure to be forgotten by awards season, so let us say right now that Elisabeth Moss (Her Smell), Emma Thompson (Late Night), Robert Pattinson (High Life) and Billie Lourd (Booksmart) top the list of must see acting glory in 2019.

What else? Well, DC finally got a real hit with the delightful Shazam! Meanwhile, MCU continued to make all the money with two really solid, fun and rewarding experiences: Avengers: End Game and Captain Marvel.

Which we all saw, statistically speaking. What did too few people see this year? Smart, funny R-rated comedies. Woefully underappreciated this year were Long Shot, Booksmart and Late Night. Please rectify this situation by the time these are available for home enjoyment.

10. Rocketman

Driven by a wonderfully layered performance from Taron Egerton – who also handles his vocal duties just fine – the film eschews the standard biopic playbook for a splendid rock and roll fantasy.

Writer Lee Hall penned Billy Elliot and Dexter Fletcher is fresh off co-directing Bohemian Rhapsody. Their vision draws from both to land somewhere between the enigmatic Dylan biopic I’m Not There and the effervescent ABBA glitter bomb Mamma Mia.

In the world of Rocketman, anything is possible. And even with all the eccentric flights of fancy, the film holds true to an ultimately touching honesty about the life story it’s telling.

9. How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

The Hidden World offers so much more than just cute, and more than enough substance to solidify the entire Dragon saga as a top tier film trilogy.

This franchise has delivered true visual wonder since the original film’s opening frame, and part 3, taking natural advantage of enhanced technology, ups the ante. The aerial gymnastics and high seas swashbuckling are propelled by animation that is deep and rich, while new details in the dragons’ faces bring wonderful nuance and expression.

There is real tension here, along with warm humor, thrilling action pieces and resonant themes backed by genuine emotion. Packed with excitement, sincerity and visual amazeballs, The Hidden World ties a can’t-miss ribbon on a wonderful trilogy.

8. The Souvenir

The Souvenir rests at the hypnotic intersection of art and inspiration, an almost shockingly self-aware narrative from filmmaker Joanna Hogg that dares you to label its high level of artistry as pretense.

In her first major role, Honor Swinton Byrne is tremendously effective (which, given her lineage as Tilda Swinton’s daughter, should not be that surprising). In her hands, Hogg’s personal reflections are at turns predictable, foolish and frustrating, yet always sympathetic and achingly real.

The Souvenir is finely crafted as a different kind of gain from pain, one that benefits both filmmaker and audience. It is artful and cinematic in its love for art and cinema, honest and forgiving in its acceptance, and beautifully appreciative of how life shapes us.

7. Little Woods

Nia DaCosta’s feature directorial debut, which she also wrote, is an independent drama of the most unusual sort—the sort that situates itself unapologetically inside American poverty.

This is less a film about the complicated pull of illegal activity and more a film about the obstacles the American poor face—many of them created by a healthcare system that serves anyone but our own ill and injured.

But politically savvy filmmaking is not the main reason to see Little Woods. See it because Tessa Thompson and Lily James are amazing, or because the story is stirring and unpredictable.

See it because it’s what America actually looks like.

6. Us

Even as writer/director Jordan Peele lulls us with familiar surroundings and visual quotes from The Lost Boys, Jaws, then Funny Games, then The Strangers and Night of the Living Dead and beyond, Us is far more than a riff on some old favorites. A masterful storyteller, Peele weaves together these moments of inspiration not simply to homage greatness but to illustrate a larger, deeper nightmare. It’s as if Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland turned into a plague on humanity.

Do the evil twins in the story represent the darkest parts of ourselves that we fight to keep hidden? The fragile nature of identity? “One nation” bitterly divided?

You could make a case for these and more, but when Peele unveils his coup de grace moment (which would make Rod Serling proud), it ultimately feels like an open-ended invitation to revisit and discuss, much like he undoubtedly did for so many genre classics.

While it’s fun to be scared stiff, scared smart is even better, a fact Jordan Peele has clearly known for years.

Guess who he’s reminding now?


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