We’ve final done it. We’ve finally crossed over into July. We have six months behind us in 2019 and another six months ahead. We’ve had some great movies, some surprising movies and even our fair share of stinkers. And as most of us are doubtless looking forward to the other half of the summer and what the fall awards season lineups will bring, this is the perfect time to look back at all of the great movies that the first half of the year gave us to play with.
10 . Captain Marvel — I love Captain Marvel the same way that I love pretty much every new Marvel movie. It’s clever, it’s funny, it’s well-acted and choreographed, it packs an emotional wallop when it has to and a narrative twist where it needs one. It’s a solid three-act origin story delivered by a talented directorial duo who, based on their impressive resume, seem more suited to character-driven dramas than big-budget blockbuster spectacles (although, to be clear, this is both). But, on the generously curved scale that this franchise grades itself on (something of a necessity, as all of these movies are so far and away above their in-genre competition that to compare them to anything else would inherently feel like punching beneath their weight class), it can’t help but feel a little underwhelming. It is merely as good as every other Marvel origin story, where it felt like it could have been even better than that if it didn’t need to be shoehorned into the mid-point between Infinity War and Endgame. Still, “as good as every other Marvel origin movie” amounts to nothing short of high praise, and places it above even the likes of Wonder Woman (2017), Aquaman (2018) and Shazam! (2019).
9 . PokÃ©mon: Detective Pikachu — I feel as if we somehow got away with something with this movie. Simply put, this movie, made by this studio, from this franchise, should never have been this good. From its gorgeously-realized world and its stunningly rendered pocket monsters, from the singular talents of Ryan Reynolds to the neon-noir narrative that his character finds himself wrapped up in, everything about this movie simply works: works on that pure level of kid-centered filmmaking that we rarely, if ever, get nowadays. Although it lacks a certain weight behind it that even some of the animated movies managed to possess, this first live-action rendering of the franchise is nevertheless an endlessly rewatchable roller coaster that will doubtless delight familiars the world over for decades to come.
8 . The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part — I still can’t believe that the first Lego Movie (2014) was any good at all, let alone one of the best movies of the year it was released in. Nakedly commercial at the core of its narrative and shamelessly juvenile in its sensibilities, it boldly announced filmmakers Lord and Miller as singular talents who could produce works of tremendous artistic merit out of the basest of building blocks. Although it ultimately falls shy of its unexpectedly excellent predecessor, The Lego Movie 2 captures much of that same infectious spirit that catapulted its famous forebear to the forefront of the cultural zeitgeist. This time tackling ideas of toxic masculinity adolescence, The Lego Movie 2 is powerful filmmaking sugar-coated by sharp animation and a commanding voice cast.
7 . Rocketman — It feels like some kind of movie miracle that a movie as seemingly identical to the atrocious Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) on-paper — both are backstage musical biopics of LGBT 1970s British rock stars who need to overcome addiction, abusive relationships and personal demons born from unsupportive parents (and in particular fathers) and found cross-continental fame thanks to a powerful musical partnership and a well-timed name change — could be so radically different in their execution on-screen. Everywhere that Bohemian Rhapsody unfortunately zigged, Rocketman thankfully zagged, giving us a sort of semi-musical whose frequent dips into magical realism are as charming and powerful as the man whose fantastical life is at the center of its decades-spanning narrative.
6 . Booksmart — 2019 has so far had a surprising number of great movies — great comedies in particular — that seemingly nobody’s been bothered to see despite their built-in mass appeal and massively positive reviews. First came Long Shot, an old-school romcom revival spiced up with Seth Rogen’s trademark brand of raunchy, stoner-inspired comedy. Most recently was Late Night, a bitingly funny sendup of late-night comedy shows and the writer rooms that fuel them. But between them was Booksmart, actress Olivia Wilde’s incredible directorial debut that played more openly with accepted cinematic conventions than any other movie this year: one that mixed stop-motion drug sequences with uproarious physical comedy and verbal repartee with cut-away fantasy gags — which mixed live action, animation, comedy, drama and even a well-timed musical number together into one of the funniest and most original-feeling movies in years: one that will hopefully find its audience on home media (since none was forthcoming when it was still in theaters).
5 . Godzilla: King of the Monsters — I will never quite understand the critical fallout that greeted this movie when it hit theaters earlier in the summer. For all intents and purposes the perfect Godzilla movie, it combined high-end special effects, show-stopping smack-downs, genuinely interesting human characters and far more compelling monster characters satisfyingly skyscraper-sized blockbuster. From the classic musical themes to the epic sweep of their global beatdown to all of the fun little Easter Eggs sprinkled in throughout the runtime, the latest American Godzilla built upon what made Kong: Skull Island (2017) such a fun romp for audiences while addressing every complaint lobbed at its predecessor, Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla (2014). For franchise fans old and new, this is as good as Godzilla will ever be outside of the tangled and utterly bizarre O.G. continuity of the Japanese movies.
4 . John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum — While hardly a “perfect” action movie (its bloated second-act fetch-quest ultimately existed just to pad the runtime and a few great characters ultimately existed without being properly fleshed-out), the latest John Wick delivered everything it needed to in order to take its place in the pantheon of must-see action flicks like The Raid: Redemption (2012), Drive (2011) and Dredd (2012): it took its back-to-basics premise (John Wick versus everybody) and exploded it outward to its most righteous extremes. Every action scene (which is to say, every scene worth seeing) was absolutely firing on all cylinders, from the opening moments where John ends a man with nothing more than an exceptionally thick book to the final blow-out in the battered walls of the Continental. If this is the last we see of the titular Babayaga, so be it, although its already teased-at sequel would doubtless be just as welcome as this film.
3 . Toy Story 4 — After Toy Story 3 (2010), the sun had pretty well set on this flagship Pixar franchise. Andy had grown up, the Toys had moved on and all of our favorite characters had to figure out what a world without their kid would look like for them. Nearly a decade later, however, the fine folks at Pixar are back with this welcome coda to the series: a final glimpse at what lessons Woody has to learn about life after Andy. Despite whatever misgivings moviegoers had for this movie merely existing in the first place, its trademark wit and charm and heartfelt narrative can’t help but win over old and new fans of the franchise alike.
2 . Avengers: Endgame — As the 22nd entry in the decade-long Marvel mega-franchise, and the long-awaited follow-up to last year’s emotional suckerpunch Avengers: Infinity War (2018), Endgame had a to live up to. It wasn’t just the conclusion to the Infinity War duology, but for Marvel’s Phase 3, Marvel’s Infinity Saga and for the individual narratives of foundational Avengers Tony Stark and Steve Rogers. It was the gangbusters blowout of everything that had been building up over the preceding decade, and was released in the shuttering wake of Marvel mastermind Stan Lee’s death. And despite the herculean task set out before it, Endgame proved more than a match for it. Although not quite the very best Marvel movie (that honor still goes to Captain America: Civil War), it has become emblematic of why critics and audiences alike love these movies so much and for so long.
1 . Us — Although Midsommar, Ari Aster’s follow-up to my favorite movie from last year, Hereditary (2018), may yet usurp this place on my eventual year-end favorite list, that’d still be a rather tall order given the now-practiced efforts on display in Jordan Peele’s superior follow-up to Get Out (2017). As far as I can see, Us is here to stay: a tremendous exercise in filmmaking so monumental that its very presence demands attention. It’s challenging in the way that the very best art films are while still as endlessly rewatchable and viscerably exciting in the way that the very best commercial films are. Its bold, original filmmaking — the best of its kind on the market today — and deserves to be recognized as such.
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