I was GOING to start off by saying that I am thankful for the good within 2019 but also extremely relieved that it’s over. Because that’s exactly how I felt as the calendar turned the page. In 2019 our daughter Natalia started talking, and her hilariously assertive and precocious personality really took shape. We went on a perfect South African safari vacation. We spent weeks in Israel visiting friends and family and seeing the sights. BUT…major health scares with not one but both of my parents? It was Just. A. Lot. But as soon as we all started getting used to this new year, this new decade, our worlds exploded with an event of seismic proportions, a literal pandemic, and nothing since has been the same. I asked myself, do I really continue writing up my annual movie tally? Is something like this even helpful anymore when everyone has their life turned upside down? And my answer was a resounding YES. Yes because we need the distraction. Yes because we need to read about something that ISN’T about a virus, or about politics. And yes because something else has happened that I have never before experienced: movie theaters are closed! I couldn’t see one now if I tried, and even if there was a holdout with one open, I certainly wouldn’t try because they NEED to remain closed for an unknown period of time. As much as I have always sung the virtues of seeing a movie on the big screen with the lights off, this is the time you really must stay home as much as possible, and away from others. And guess what? I have a guide of the movies I watched in 2019, and at this point most of them are available to stream; so in many ways, this may be the MOST appropriate annual movie tally I’ve ever done. So sit back, put on your reading glasses, and get caught up on my life as well as my advice for the dozens of movies you probably missed last year…
But before we talk about movies, before we discuss any numbers or tallies, before I mention what I liked best and worst with each friend, let’s go through some low and high-lights of 2019.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: The cover photo was taken in January, back when I started writing this saga, and well before we had a notion of the prescient nature of Natalia’s t-shirt. This post is full of both trivial and interesting Easter Eggs, if you see a hyperlink, go ahead and click it for more.
May, 2019: South Africa
We left Natalia in the warm and wonderful hands of her grandparents, and headed on a grand adventure to South Africa. The story behind this was the usual age-old story of boy meets girl, boy marries girl, boy goes with girl to fundraiser dinner where the boy is assured by his philanthropic wife the night is free…and then…the auction begins for an African safari. Boy watches girl raise her hand in the air and bid without any warning whatsoever, and boy watches girl turn free night into a not-so-free night. So you know, the usual way vacations come to fruition. It was actually an incredible deal because 75% of the money went directly to charity, and something that was previously on our bucket list(s) was able to happen. Through ingenuity, Adi was able to get more of the safari trips sold via her Sheba Medical Center charity to friends, and the next thing we knew there were 18 of us on our own tour bus in Johannesburg and Zulu Nyala safari creating instantly classic memories. Pictures can never fully capture feelings, but to the extent that they can, here is what we looked like on our first day (on the historic streets of Soweto), many not knowing the person next to them…
…and then 10 days later this is how close we had become, and how sad we were to gaze at our last exhilarating safari sunset.
May, 2019: A Shocking Return
We got through our looooong journey home, and like zombies, we came home to say hi to our parents and daughter….and my sister Abigail? Why was my New Jersey sister sitting in our living room? Jokingly, she said she came because we required a grand welcome back, but 10 minutes later, when we could put things down and talk to her, she dropped a bomb on us: my mother was diagnosed with the Big C. She had an aggressive form of Lymphoma, and chemotherapy treatments were going to start in a few days. She and the family had actually found out on our second day of our fun vacation, and made the (understandable) decision NOT to tell us until we returned.
There was good news however; this was caught early. So early that there were no symptoms yet. In fact the only reason they caught it was because my mom got her regularly scheduled mammogram, and then the office called her up and said, “we have new fancy 3D equipment now, would you like to return and get another one with the new gadgets?” and she obliged. This updated technology allowed them to get a clear image of the lymph nodes on her left side, and thus the cancer was detected early. The next 18 weeks consisted of 6 horribly exhausting cycles of treatments that were extremely confusing for my mother, since everyone would ask her sympathetically, “How are you feeling now???” to which she would reply, “I was feeling perfectly fine before the treatments, but now the cure itself is what makes me feel awful”. This process started in May and went through September.
August, 2019: Israel
For months, my amazing wife and siblings were coordinating and taking turns visiting and spending weeks helping my mother through the worst of it. And in August, we went with Natalia and Adi’s parents to Israel, for our niece Yael’s Bat Mitzvah. It was an incredible trip. The first week, my best friend Kevin showed us everything in Southern Israel from wineries to tank museums.
We then traveled North to Safed (aka Tzfat) where Adi’s brother Adam lives and works as a certified tour guide. He and his family spent a week touring us around everything from the grottoes of Rosh Hanikra to the warm waters of the Sea of Galilee (aka The Kinneret). All of this surrounding the reason we went, Yael’s Bat Mitzvah.
September, 2019: The Calm Before the Storm
David Suissa gave me the opportunity to become a blogger for the Jewish Journal, one of the largest Jewish publications in the world. He and their digital editor liked my writing so much that they told me if I write it, they’ll publish it. My first piece was a quiet one about the death of a dear friend’s child. My next involved my bizarre movie habits. Others include an interview of my friend Ronnie just as he was about to premiere on the show Survivor, and a special happy anniversary piece dedicated to my wife. They kept their word, they were happy to publish my every writing!
My mother finished her final round of chemo, and my siblings booked flights to come to LA and enjoy the upcoming Succos holiday together as a family. Finally. In celebration. Rosh Hashana kicked off the Jewish high holiday season, and then…
October, 2019: The Storm
…While walking home from his synagogue, minutes after Rosh Hashana ended, my father crossed the street, and became the victim of a hit & run accident. He was alive, but had serious injuries. The next day I wrote a piece about the awful experience, it was shared by countless others, and thankfully by the end of the week the police notified us that the driver had admitted to the accident.
My siblings came in as planned, but instead of a holiday to celebrate my mother’s end of treatments, it was a holiday where all of us, including my mother, were helping my father with his new impairments.
BUT…here’s the thing. By the end of the year, my father, who had a major head injury, and could have easily not survived, was and is alive. My mother was in remission. Her cancer was no longer detected, even if we did not know there would be a new, different cancer threat, also vanquished, early this year. These were and are incalculably massive blessings. Each of our trips may have been followed by hellish experiences, but as the year came to a close, there was plenty of reason to be optimistic that this next year of 2020 would be…easier. (Please allow the irony of that last sentiment to linger, as we turn the page toward the main topic at hand.)
SO YOU SAW NO MOVIES?
Okay, I get it, anything not about movies is a deviation from the main story. This is, after all, my annual end-of-year blog, and here’s where the count, the tallies, the stories, and some mini-reviews come in. Because through it all, the thick and the thin, the highs and the lows, the vacations and the health scares…I decompressed in the movie theater. Whether with Adi or friends, I got myself out as often as possible, because during the happy it added to my fun, and during the hair-pulling travails, it helped provide 2 hours of distraction. That’s the thing about movies, they always feel right for me, even (and at times ESPECIALLY) the bad ones. (That’s part of what’s making this current pandemic even harder for me – there goes my coping mechanism!) So let’s get into my biggest passion (sorry family, sorry nursing), and discuss what I saw this year.
My mind forever tells me that anything under 150 is below my “average”, but I think the time has come that I need to adjust my expectations. It’s like bowling. On the occasion I go, people ask me what I usually score, and I tell them 144 is my average. Well yes, but the only reason I know my average bowling score is that I was in a bowling LEAGUE back in college. 20 years ago. Since then I have bowled possibly once a year. Each time my supposed average is 144, but yet I rarely hit those numbers now, because I’m out of practice. So at what point do I have a new bowling reality? There’s no league to track my numbers, but at what point is my average a thing of the past? Here I am, knowing I USED TO see an average of 150 movies per year, but the last time I saw that many was prior to 2010…before I met Adi. Not that I’m blaming her. (Not that I’m NOT blaming her either though – ha!)
So let’s look at things through B.A. (Before Adi) and A.A. goggles, because that’s what the new math demands. My highest tally in the A.A. era was in 2012, my first year out of the hell that was nursing school when I threw myself into the job market; that year I saw a grand total of 138 flicks. Any year that gifted the world both Zero Dark Thirty AND Abraham Lincoln: (wait for it…) Vampire Hunter is a year we will forever look back on fondly. The very next year in 2013 I stayed quite consistent and saw 135. Really a negligible drop in numbers, and both years were an acceptable deviation from my B.A. 150 average. I wouldn’t exactly say the OCD part of me was thrilled by the slight drop-off, but the A.A. part of me looks at those 2 years with rose colored glasses. And by the way, that beautiful year gave me both 12 Years a Slave AND Machete Kills, two movies that I’m confident already share the same shelf at the Smithsonian. But then it happened. 2014 came and I saw a putrid 103 movies. My world shattered. I screamed and tried to spin the globe backwards Christopher Reeve style, but alas my abilities to turn back time were not what the movie promised. I cannot conclusively say what caused this massive drop-off. We were in our first year of marriage where the only thing newlyweds COULD do when alone is….see movies obviously. No long trips yet, wedding planning had come and gone the previous year, the honeymoon was to wait until the next year; I truly have no answers for this massive deviation, other than that my now-wife started to learn to say no to me. Plus I forgot to include a mandatory minimum number of movies in our prenup, so feel free to draw your own conclusions. A few years in a row sent me into a spiral of deep depression, when I dipped under 100 movies; I knew something had to change, because my prioritizing of my work and family was clearly spiraling my movie-obsessed life down the wrong path.
So that’s what I did. My priorities changed. 3 meals a day? Who needs balanced meals when you can eat chocolate bars and soda in the theater! Spending time with my wife? Sure, as long as it’s a movie she’s interested in, otherwise see ya when I get home! Friends want to catch up with me? Great, I’ll meet at The Conjuring 3, and we can talk between previews! Last year when I wrote my 2018 tally, I had regained some of my mojo, back over 100, with 106 as my total. I vowed to only go up from here, which leads me to:
My final tally for 2019 movies seen in a theater – 110
Who I saw the most with:
- Adi – 82 movies (previous year 83). Not a typo, she saw exactly one less than the prior year! Know the cliche of the suspicious men and women who hack into the computers and phones of their significant others to find secrets and lies? My wife recently did that to me, except in my case she opened my laptop to sneak a peek at my spreadsheet where I do my count, and this was our exchange at 9pm, when she was looking at my computer for something else:
Adi – Oh, hey, we saw a lot of movies.
Me – (Assuming she was looking at my spreadsheet) No cheating!
Adi – Cheating?
Adi – Did you write it down?
Adi – Where!!!
Adi – I’m gonna snoop.
Me – No, go away!
Adi – I saw more this year than last! And you went up too!!
Adi – I’m the best wife in the world.
Me – No you aren’t.
Me – You are a wife who cheats.
Me – Horribly.
Me – By looking ahead.
Adi – Actually, I didn’t see The Peanut Butter Falcon, so remove that from my tally, so my number is exactly the same as last year, 83 movies. (And that was true until I realized she didn’t see Ad Astra with me either, so she really went down to 82. Maybe cheaters never prosper after all?!)
Now that you’ve been given a glimpse into our intimate dynamic, let me say in all seriousness, Adi is the best wife. I don’t think there are many out there who would put up with a spouse seeing over a hundred movies a year, baby or no baby at home, and even less would join for just under 75% of those movies (yes I just did the math); but here we are, a husband who lives and breathes movies, and a wife who actually wants to see three quarters of them too. I do realize I’m lucky. The highlights of the year…
We saw Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, and if you have never read my take on how screwed Star Wars movies are no matter who/what/how they make the new ones, then here it is for you again. Yes I truly enjoyed the experience of finishing off the trilogy/aka the 3rd movie in the 3rd trilogy; aaaaand yes I have a laundry list of critiques, some of which doomed the movie before filming even began. Life just isn’t fair sometimes, and the one major character they had decided to keep alive for this finale was the one actor who died before the movie could start filming, Carrie Fisher. How do you solve a problem like Leia? They understandably vetoed recasting her, said no to using CG to fake her scenes, and did not want to have her iconic character simply die off-screen between films; so they came up with an undeniably honorable solution, to gather unused footage of her and work it into the movie. Nothing faked, all things she filmed but had previously remained on the cutting room floor. Therefore the biggest problem with the new film was one inherent to their honorable solution; they had to fabricate entire scenes to work around a piece of dialogue here and there, instead of writing and filming something to move the story forward. A deleted moment where Leia hugged this character? Create a scene to explain that embrace. Leia was filmed telling another character “good luck”? Work that in somewhere. This type of thing works fine for a cute YouTube montage, but does not serve a story well that needs momentum for its narrative. The entire character Rose Tico needed to stay behind with Leia so that she would have someone to play off of, but since there was little to work with already filmed by Carrie Fisher, this previously developing character of Rose simply stagnated uselessly. Again, an honorable decision made that derailed much of what could have been a better narrative. But in spite of that, here was a Star Wars that moved me at times, excited me at other times, and gave me a semblance of closure that was important…until the superior Mandalorian came along later in the year.
Terminator: Dark Fate was certainly the best one since the original two, and the fact that James Cameron was finally involved again showed. Sadly the inferior sequels that came in-between eroded any chance that audiences would show up en masse again, and any chance of this series being revived will depend on whether Cameron himself wants to direct one. Parasite was incredible. If anything had to come along and snatch victory away from my favorite movie of the year, I’m glad it was this one. Inventive, funny, vicious, and constantly surprising, this movie is hard to describe without spoiling things, and also mesmerizing to watch. About time a foreign film was considered the “Best Picture” of the year. Though if weird and dark are two adjectives you dislike in a film, or if subtitles are something you cannot ever get past, I suppose I cannot recommend it to you. Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood was hands-down one of my favorite movies of the year. Last year I sung the praises of 2018’s beautiful Mister Rogers documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? This year the warmhearted treat continued, as Tom Hanks was Fred Rogers. I don’t mean he played him well, I mean he WAS him. He lived him, breathed him, as if you were watching him live again. In the final scene they showed Tom Hanks in the show and then showed Fred Rogers doing it, and honest to God I couldn’t tell that it had switched back. I loved every minute of it, and had predicted that I would for purely nostalgic reasons, but in truth the film-making itself was fantastic, and took all of us through one of his journeys of imagination, where even our world was in his Land of Make Believe. I didn’t want the experience of watching it to end. Other movies we saw that I do not have the time to separately describe, but each deserve high praise nonetheless, include Joker, The Farewell, The Favourite, Dark Waters, Ford V Ferrari, Bombshell, Dark Waters,They Shall Not Grow Old, Doctor Sleep, and Midsommar. And yes the last two of the list are horror movies, always a snubbed genre when it comes to award season unfortunately. And I’ll point out that Midsommar was Adi’s personal favorite movie we saw in 2019.
But my favorite movie seen in 2019 was one that I had hoped to win it all at the Oscars, but had to settle for Best Supporting Actor with Brad Pitt – that’s right, I absolutely loved Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Let me be clear, my love for Quentin Tarantino movies has a very narrow range. It has gone from my least favorite ones that I still thoroughly enjoyed, including The Hateful Eight and Jackie Brown, to the classics I could, and have watched over and over again, including Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. Not a dud in the bunch, though I’m choosing to ignore Four Rooms which was a failed experiment he was only 25% responsible for. This newest one immediately shot into my upper echelon of his films, because of how riveted I was from the first minute to the last scene. Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio couldn’t have been cast better, and I enjoyed watching a brief period in their fictitious lives, all while the inevitable true-life Manson murder of Sharon Tate was looming large next door. What a wonderful movie that transported me into all of their lives with Tarantino’s perfect screenplay that rambles along in their lives, takes us into the world of Rick Dalton’s Bounty Law that could have easily been a real show; captivated me with a wonderful performance of 10 year old breakout star Julia Butters more than holding her own against Leo’s Rick Dalton; and tantalizingly scares us with the looming sexy threat of Margaret Qualley’s hitchhiking hippie. I enjoyed every minute of the meandering ride, and once it was over, I was bowled over by how incredibly it all came together. Some found it pointlessly long, I found it to be hands down my favorite of all 110 movies this past year.
- Avish – 10 movies (previous year 2). What a great comeback story! The previous year she had been 3rd place with 8, and then she had a blip of just 2, but came in strong this past year right behind Adi at 10 movies. Everyone like a good comeback story. And Avish deserves extra props for coming in 2nd place, because she is our #1 backup babysitter when the grandparents aren’t available, which means yes, some movies she would otherwise see WITH us; she takes one for the team and watches Natalia while we go out to play. So thank you “Auntie” Avish, you’re Adi’s oldest friend in the world, and that’s damn impressive considering she hates cats and you are basically a human scratch toy, so we clearly love you!
And now to highlight a few. Best movie we saw together was JoJo Rabbit. I know this movie angered some by daring to make a “Hitler comedy”, but I have yet to find anything by Taika Waititi that I haven’t truly enjoyed. He made arguably the best Marvel movie yet by adding his brand of humor to Thor: Ragnarok, and he was responsible for the best and wittiest episode of the wonderful Star Wars series The Mandalorian, when he directed the finale. JoJo Rabbit certainly had plenty of great laughs showing the perspective of a naive and angry child in the Hitler Youth, but also contained some scenes that felt like a shocking sensation of ice water to the face. We also had the amusing (dis?)pleasure of seeing a double feature of Last Christmas and Black Christmas. The latter was simply a weak horror movie remake whose best feature was showing us that Cary Elwes has barely aged at all, but the former was a somewhat adorable and extremely weird romantic comedy that was written by (and featuring) Emma Thompson, who gave herself some lines that made me laugh loudly (a feat not easily done).
- Arnon – 9 movies (previous year 1). This comeback impresses me even further, because it happened on a year where his (busy doctor) wife Talia was pregnant, he was watching the kids while writing and directing, and he STILL found the time to see nine with me. Plus the one movie we saw together in 2018 was Proud Mary, maybe the most bored I was in a movie that entire year, so the bar was pretty low…. Watching a movie with Arnon is an experience. As a highly introspective filmmaker, whether the film is a mindless action flick or an art piece, he finds a way to elevate the conversation. I want to know what my movie partners think of each one we see together, but there’s something very special about watching Arnon process what he thinks as we drive back together after it ends – even when I strongly disagree. And if you haven’t seen his award-winning short The Pirate Captain Toledano you can see it on Amazon Prime and I’ll supply a preview right here. Also, Arnon’s mustache is worth the friendship in and of itself.
What stands out most from the ones we watched together in 2019? Netflix! No, I am not suddenly adding television to the blog, but we paid to see two Netflix movies in the theater together, and yes we each have Netflix subscriptions. Is that insanity? We really don’t think so. Here’s my take: A big dumb Netflix movie like Bright is obviously theatrical. It’s expensive, full of special effects, action, and is a movie that most people can agree benefits from the large screen. But what about the small indie flicks? Early in the year we caught Roma, and I loved it. If I had seen it at home I PREDICT I would have been impressed, but also somewhat bored, and I’m confident I would have gotten less out of the experience. Seeing a wonderful, slow character piece in a forum where you can’t look at your phone (unless you’re a horrible moviegoer), you can’t pause it to pee (unless you’re the projectionist), you can’t multitask and fold laundry or open your mail while it’s playing – it’s just you and the characters on the screen. You get lost in that world. Roma was a movie that was incredibly personal to Alfonso Cuarón, and you felt it. Watching the protagonist maid clean the dog shit off the driveway is somehow still an image I remember a year later, and the feelings of dread watching the children swim in the strong ocean currents still sit with me. If I had seen it at home I truly don’t think I would have thought about it the next day. So if you continue to give me the option of seeing the same movie right now at home or in the theater, I’ll continue to choose the full experience. While Roma was nominated for the previous year’s Oscars, late in 2019 we went to see The Irishman which was nominated this year. It FELT too long. It FELT quite epic. I was both impressed and frustrated while watching it, and wished it had been an hour shorter. But I must admit that I gained a fuller appreciation of the 3.5 hour saga after reading a great piece shared with me by my friend and movie critic Zach Ralston, which I will pass along here, in addition to his own glowing review here.
- Shlomo – 7 movies (previous year 0). Oh Shlomo. He manages to perpetually be one of my favorite and least favorite people to watch a movie with. It doesn’t matter if it’s an Oscar flick or a dumb one, he’ll tell you it sucks. Not just at the end. Before you see it with him.
Shlomo – Hey Boaz, I’ll see the Maleficent sequel with you.
Boaz – Really? You like nothing but you want to see that mediocre Disney movie?
Shlomo – The first one was okay, better than the crap I expected.
Boaz – Okay great, let’s go see it.
(We drive to the theater together)
Shlomo – This is gonna suck.
Boaz – You said you wanted to see it!
Shlomo – It’s gonna suck. Everything I see with you sucks.
Shlomo – That movie looks terrible. (He then tells me that for every preview that comes on)
(Movie starts, 3 times during the movie)
Shlomo – This sucks
Shlomo – Why did you make me see that? It sucked.
In addition to the Maleficent sequel, he also had that same chat with me this year for…Hobbs & Riggs (incredibly dumb fun Fast & Furious spinoff), the Jumanji sequel (he had never seen the first one!), Good Boys (truly funny by the way, I saw it twice so I could show it to Adi), Spies in Disguise (adequate disposable kid cartoon), Avengers: Endgame (I think this was absolutely epic in spite of dozens of flaws), Stuber (very little to say about this dumb diverting one), and Aladdin. By the way, I saw Aladdin for my birthday, and he was one of only three to dislike it. Think three is a decent sample size? It’s out of THIS many who otherwise told me they enjoyed it.
I’ll miss my camera-phobic friend Shlomo, and his wife Sarah, as they are near and dear friends who are no longer near, as they moved to Massachusetts; and I admit that the masochistic side of me will miss hearing him blame me for the apparent suckage of each and every movie we see.
- Annie – 7 movies (previous year 2). One of my closest friends to ever come out of a job. Annie left my Med/Surg unit a year or so ago, and I still manage to see her a few times a month. When we’re not commiserating about the stress and hell that our jobs can be, we are both in love with cinema. Watching movies with her involves a lot of laughter, regardless of the genre. She is likely moving away later this year (temporarily???) and I’ll miss the hell out of her.
Although she’s not nearly the fan of comic book movies that I am, we saw both Captain Marvel and Shazam! There was nothing particularly special about Captain Marvel but as with all MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) flicks it was good, fun entertainment. Lots of fun watching Samuel L Jackson younger (more convincingly de-aged than DeNiro in The Irishman and Will Smith in Gemini Man), and more than just a cameo as Nick Fury. And he’s always great in a buddy cop-type role. (You probably didn’t see the hilariously stupid/violent The Hitman’s Bodyguard with him teaming up with Ryan Reynolds, but let’s just say I’m extremely excited for the sequel later this year.) One critique is that they not only made her awesomely full of power, her character is actually too powerful. The only way Avengers: Endgame was able to justify her not defeating Thanos early on was by making her disappear until the last 10 minutes of the movie. A bit of a miscalculation in writing her character if you ask me. Shazam! on the other hand is just the perfect superhero comedy. I’m a 40 year old man and I thought it was delightful and funny with a witty script. If I was a kid it would have felt like an instant classic. As a side note, between this movie and the previous season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, I enjoyed my year of watching Zachary Levi performances.
- Harwin – 7 movies (previous year 3). Ah David Harwin, a guy so easy-going, so down to…whatever you offer that day, and so quiet! Seeing a movie with Harwin like most things with him are about looking at his expressions and seeing what a great time he’s having either because of the movie or at its expense. One of Adi’s oldest friends, he not only travels with us annually but takes hella great photos along the way.
This year among other things, we saw Cold Pursuit, which had the misfortune of Liam Neeson making one of the world’s strangest life choices during his PR stint. Okay Liam, you’ve just made a relatively entertaining Coen Brothers type revenge thriller comedy, go enjoy the usual talk show trail – oh that’s where you decide to casually drop a bomb and tell the world about what you once did and potentially destroy your career in the process (or at least any chance this movie had of being watched that month). Never heard it? Have a listen here. What’s fascinating is that if you actually listen to it (rather than just read the negative press) you might see that there WAS an interesting point in the awful life choice he made there. He was clearly TRYING to say how terrible revenge is, and brought in a personal example of his own terrible decision-making. But the WAY he went about it showed more than just him trying to kill the guy, it showed a horrible sense of casual racism that went along with it, where he wanted to get ANY “black bastard” to approach him so he could “kill him”. I mean, really Liam Neeson? That’s your revenge story? Not about the man who attacked your friend but anyone his color? Okay then at least tell the story in a way to sincerely demonstrate how awful it was that you FELT that way, generalizing an entire race for the attack on your friend; but nope, instead it was just about how revenge isn’t helpful, nothing about the inherent racism permeating through. Ucch. So Liam Neeson gets to be shifted to the camp of actors I love watching along with Mel Gibson and plenty of others, each of whom I’ve lost the respect of on a personal level, but dammit I’ll still enjoy watching their movies. And speaking of race relations, we also saw Black and Blue together, and it was a surprisingly strong police thriller. Tyrese Gibson playing very much against type, and a really well done B-movie that addresses whether a black cop should sooner bleed black or police blue when put to an extremely unfair test by corrupt others. I’m sure you missed it, so check it out.
- Shira – 5 movies (previous year 1). Yet another friend picking up the pace hugely this past year. Something must have changed because in 2018 none of these people seemed to want to go out with me, so either my personality improved or my mom is pulling her old tricks again, and paying them to be my friend. I’ll say this now like I said it back then – THANKS MOM! A warm and wonderful friend in common to both me and Adi coincidentally BEFORE we started dating, Shira is truly awesome. She actually WANTS to see the stupid kid movies that nobody else can tolerate. I don’t have to convince her, and she charges my mother the same price as everyone else.
Case in point: we saw a double feature this year, excited for the lineup? A Dog’s Journey and, wait for it, UglyDolls. Yep. And we enjoyed, nay TOLERATED both just fine thankyouverymuch. Actually UglyDolls was about as good as you’d expect a cartoon based on a toy chain to be, but it did have one catchy villainous earworm that you can get a kick out of too, right here (that’s Nick Jonas btw).
- Patrick – 5 movies (previous year 2). There’s nobody quite like Patrick, and if you don’t yet have your own Patrick, I very much recommend finding one. He used to have a face as smooth as a baby’s bottom, but then years passed by, he must have been inspired by the Dexter finale, and grew out a Hasidic beard. Except he’s Christian, so they just call them Hipster beards apparently. Then after a few years of his friends asking when he would end this weird “beard phase”, he landed a commercial. In prime-time television. This one. That cemented the beard onto his face permanently and most of us since have given up trying. But is the beard actually why everyone should get their own Patrick? Not at all, he’s just truly one of the most delightful, life-adoring, good-natured-at-all-times friend who has a laugh that’s infectious in the best kind of way. He’s that guy. He also took my father to the eye doctor and proved himself to be a friend in need. Just saying.
Among the movies we saw together I’m going to name the only one that probably did NOT garner the special Patrick laugh, 21 Bridges. A serious action thriller, and a really solid old-fashioned one. We know where the cop-killing bad guys are, and our hero is on his own tracking them down! Could easily be a made-for-TV movie, but it was exciting, and a great role for Chadwick Boseman aka Black Panther. On a more ridiculous, yes-he-was-laughing end of the spectrum, we watched Octavia Spencer have the GRANDEST time being a psychopathic horror villain in Ma, and boy oh boy did she enjoy chewing up the scenery. One of those fun movies where the theater was jumping and welping and laughing out loud from start to finish. Really doesn’t hurt to have an Oscar-winner take a break every now and then to just enjoy being ridiculous.
- Jared – 5 movies (previous year 3). One of my best friends, and always finishes off a movie with a slow clap. Does he mean it seriously? Sarcastically? Mockingly? All of the above? Could be! A wonderful friend-in-need, Jared has always been there for us, a hiking companion for Adi and Natalia, a poker friend (and teacher honestly) for me. And he and Mike (Burgher) are responsible for getting me hooked on what is likely my favorite show to watch each week, Survivor. When I broke my elbow in 2015, the two of them smelled blood in the water and pounced. By the time I had returned to work I had watched nine seasons, and now most Wednesdays Jared is on the couch watching with me.
What we watched together this past year ranged from gorgeously boring to stupidly funny. We saw Ad Astra together, a movie that if I saw on my television I would have found without merit. I’m sorry but I do NOT do well with slow, art films. I will forever remember Tree of Life as a movie that some consider a classic, and I consider 3 hours of torture. 2001: A Space Odyssey almost falls into that camp, each time I watch it I ALMOST get too bored to continue, but then something about it mesmerizes me to the point of recognizing its dark beauty. Ad Astra falls somewhere between those two worlds for me. Too slow moving, not enough dialogue, and far too much narration. In fact I still remember the wise words of my best friend Seth Isenberg from years ago, “Almost every movie with narration would have been better without it.” I have found various examples to poke holes in his theory over the years, usually due to either witty narration (A Christmas Story, The Big Lebowski) or deliberately misleading narration that helps manipulate what you think is happening in the story (Fight Club, Memento). Ad Astra would have been a better movie without the tedious voice-over. It was gorgeous, worth seeing on an IMAX, but now that you can only watch it via streaming I don’t know how many of you would enjoy the pretty, but mostly internalized experience of the film. On the other side of the spectrum, we enjoyed the stupidity that was the one-note movie Jexi, a panned, predictable comedy variation of Her, just dumb and enjoyable enough for us to enjoy our 90 minutes. For a far superior Rated R comedy though, we watched Booksmart, an actually really good “just before college” comedy. Olivia Wilde did a surprisingly good job with her directorial debut, and the main two actors were just winners. Both of them. They weren’t just women being told they could talk Superbad style, they were complex women, graduating high school, with a bond that you could feel, and you really rooted for them, their high-jinx, and most of all their friendship. The fact that one of them (Beanie Feldstein) happens to be Jonah Hill’s sister certainly is a funny coincidence though.
- Cori – 5 movies (previous year 0). Cori only lived here for a handful of months last year, but still managed to see 5 with me. If this tally was proportional, he would have displaced everyone but Adi on this list! Cori rounds out the LACES quartet that make up Adi, Avish, Harwin and Cori. These 4 have been friends since middle school at, you guessed it, LACES, and every single group trip I’ve planned since 2016 has been with them. Just a wonderful bunch of really old friends, and they seem to either like me or enjoy my vacation planning; either way we’re all tight now. Cori is super smart, super geeky, super informed, and super opinionated, and it adds up to someone who I adore watching geeky movies to obsess over.
What an epic 5 movies this past year that consisted of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, one of the best cartoons, and one of the best comic book movies of all time, beautifully melded into one. Us, which was totally robbed of Oscar love for the frighteningly cool dual performances by Lupita Nyong’o, even if it still wasn’t quite as fantastic as Jordan Peele’s previous scary funny flick Get Out (an unfair but inevitable comparison). For good measure we also had fun geeking out together over Glass, How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, and Avengers: Endgame. All quite memorable honestly.
A few last people worth mentioning… Sam was a newlywed, his wife had a baby, they copied our baby’s name (Talia, come on, they thought we wouldn’t notice the silent Na?) and managed to squeeze in 4 with me including Alita: Battle Angel, a movie I thought would be terribly dumb but was actually a well done rendering of a manga comic I was unfamiliar with.
Mayman (who I wrote about extensively last year), managed to see 3 with me including Gemini Man, a movie that should have been SO much better than it was. Really it was too reliant on its weak de-aging technology, which distracted terribly from an otherwise exciting and even thoughtful Ang Lee action movie. Though I must give a special shout-out yet again to my friend Zach Ralston whose review for it absolutely convinced me that there was only one way to view the movie, and I missed the boat on doing so.
And finally there was my dear friend Mike, my once-upon-a-time #1 movie companion, a guy who is in the same scientific brain studies as Marilu Henner (check out a cool example here), and now he and Naomi will sadly be moving away from me later this year. We managed to see 3 together, including the excellent biopic Richard Jewell, which starred Paul Walter Hauser. Can I take a minute to point out that this actor only recently broke into movies, he’s not exactly what you think of as leading man material, and yet he’s already had three wonderfully memorable roles in 3 different Oscar movies: I, Tonya, BlacKkKlansman and Richard Jewell. And honestly he was robbed of a nomination in this particularly strange role.
Don’t worry, nobody died, but missing movies always feels like I’ve struck out with men in scoring position. Sure, some of them are movies I really had no need to see, and it would have felt more like trying to pad my stats, but others were ones where I feel like I let down my team, and will get ’em next time, coach. (Can you tell I’m going through baseball withdrawal?) I wish I had seen these on a big screen, in no particular order:
Apollo 11, Wonder Park, The Beach Bum, Her Smell, The Intruder, Pokémon Detective Pikachu, Tolkien, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Anna, The Art of Self-Defense, Luce, The Art of Racing in the Rain, Where’d You Go, Bernadette, The Goldfinch, Rambo: Last Blood, Dolemite is My Name, Countdown, Motherless Brooklyn, The Aeronauts and Clemency.
SO LONG, FAREWELL, AUF WIEDERSEHEN, GOODBYE
That rounds up the 2019 movie tally. So I went up from 106 to 110, and this is where I would usually vow that anything LESS THAN 110 would mark a failure for this next year. But you and I both know that might be a false oath, because none of us can know just how long it will be before it is next both legal and safe to go to the movies. So until then, use this guide as a way to ease your boredom through the pandemic, about 90% of your time can be spent watching all of these movies you’ve missed, the other 10% will be needed just to get through what I wrote!
I’ll leave you with an apropos song from my favorite movie of all time – yes I’ve finally announced it, I have a favorite movie – the geniuses of Monty Python finished off their greatest(?) film with this gem you can try to take with you…