Mainstream Chick’s Top Movie Picks of 2019

2019 was a good year for movies. I liked a lot of what I saw, and I saw a lot. 200+ films. Blockbusters, documentaries, foreign films, indies. However, for the first time in several years, I don’t have any runaway favorites. No definitive number ones, twos or threes. It’s more like a 10-way tie for number five that could easily have been a 30-way tie. So take the list (and the order) with a grain of salt, knowing that I enjoyed all these films – and many more – for different reasons at different times depending on my mood and cinematic headspace.

Quickie Review: 1917

I’m not big on epic war dramas. They all tend to share the same brutal message: War is hell. But 1917 is surprisingly engaging, and best seen on the biggest screen possible. It’s an immersive, visceral film that relies on a gimmick of sorts to set it apart from classic war movies like Apocalypse Now, Saving Private Ryan, Dunkirk, etc. The film is designed to give the impression that it’s all shot in one continuous take. Gimmick or not, it works. 1917 follows the perilous journey of two young British soldiers sent across enemy lines at the height of the First World War to deliver a message that could potentially save 1600 men from walking into a deadly trap set by the Germans. It reeks of a suicide mission from the start. But one of the young men, Lance Corporal Blake (Game of Thrones’ Dean-Charles Chapman) has a very personal stake in getting the message across. His brother is among those heading into an ambush.

Review: Little Women

Louisa May Alcott’s 1860s novel Little Women has been adapted to film more times that I can count, beginning in the silent era. So do we really need another one? Yes, we do. In the hands of the talented Greta Gerwig, this story of the four March sisters in Concord, Massachusetts feels as fresh and as relevant as any modern story. And blessed with a perfect cast including Saoirse Ronan, Laura Dern, and Timothée Chalamet, it’s one of the gems of this awards season.

Mini review: Marriage Story

Both of us Chicks saw this one at the Middleburg Film Festival earlier this year where it was the opening night film. From director Noah Baumbach (Margot at the Wedding, Frances Ha) it stars Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver as a New York couple whose marriage is coming apart. Nicole is a former TV actress married to Charlie who’s a theater director. And they have a cute little boy Henry (Azhy Robertson), whose custody becomes an issue when Mom moves home to the west coast to star in a TV show leaving Dad to commute if he wants to be a part of his son’s life. But once a couple of high powered LA divorce lawyers (Laura Dern and Ray Liotta) enter the story, what started out as an amicable split turns contentious. The film has some great performances, but sadly the story itself feels entirely too familiar.

Review: Bombshell

This movie has so much going for it – a knock-out cast, a ripped from the headlines #metoo #girlpower story, a humiliating takedown of the creator of Fox News – so why in the world isn’t it more compelling? Bombshell is taken from a true story. In case you missed it, a couple of years back, Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) one of the blondes of Fox News was fired and rather than just take it on the chin, she sued her boss, Fox founder Roger Ailes (John Lithgow), for sexual harassment and opened the gates for a flood of other women within the organization to come forward with similar stories, culminating in his ouster. At about the same time another of the beautiful women of Fox, Megyn Kelly (channeled here by the amazing Charlize Theron) decided to have her very own #girlpower moment during a Republican presidential debate when she famously asked GOP candidate Trump about his sexist treatment of women and was the recipient of one of his memorable disses about “blood coming out of her wherever.” You might think these two women would be natural allies then. But it seems that at Fox News it was every woman for herself.

Review: CATS

Speaking of memories…

I still have my ticket stub from the July 27, 1983 performance of CATS at the Wintergarden Theatre on Broadway. It was a Wednesday matinee and my orchestra seat cost $35. Betty Buckley played Grizabella the Glamour Cat. She sang “Memory.” I was hooked. I will always be a fan of the music. I will continue to defend the songs, the dancing, and the whimsical appeal of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic stage production.

I can’t, however, defend the movie. It simply doesn’t work.

Spoiler-free Review: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Chances are, if you’re reading this review (and I use the term loosely), you’ve already seen The Rise of Skywalker (so now it’s okay to look), you couldn’t care less about the film and are looking for validation, you trust that I won’t give anything away because you’ve read enough of my stuff to know better, or, you’re somewhat curious if you should see the movie, at least eventually. To the first group I say, “Hope you enjoyed it. How ‘bout that ending?!” To the second group, I say, “You probably haven’t seen a Star Wars movie since 1977 (if at all) and that’s okay. No need to start with this one.” To the third group, “I couldn’t spoil it if I wanted to; I’m just a casual fan, familiar with the broad strokes of the epic saga but not obsessed with the minutiae; and to the fourth group, here’s the deal: “If you saw Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens and Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi then you should definitely see The Rise of Skywalker (aka Episode IX), for closure.

Review: Queen & Slim

Worst first date ever! Queen only went on the date because she had a bad day and didn’t want to be alone. But Slim (Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out) was having a decent time anyway. Then on the way home they get pulled over by a racist cop who shoots Queen in the leg when she gets out of the car, and Slim is afraid he might be next, so he wrestles the cop’s gun away from him and shoots him in self-defense. And the couple are suddenly on the wrong side of the law. The whole thing was caught on dash-cam video, so there’s no question what physically happened, but their guilt or innocence is a question of perspective, and once the video goes viral they become folk heroes to the black community. Queen & Slim turns Bonnie and Clyde on its head, with the hunted couple being innocents fleeing a broken justice system. And intertwined with the couple on the run for their lives narrative is a love story that blossoms between the two whose fates become one in a tragic instant.

Review: Uncut Gems

Adam Sandler is one of the most exasperating actors out there. He’s made a slew of horrible, stupid movies (The Waterboy, Billy Madison), and yet every now and again he proves that he can actually act (Punch-Drunk Love, Spanglish). Now he’s getting all kinds of awards season love for his performance in Uncut Gems and deservingly so. It’s one of those roles where you’re simultaneously rooting for the guy and hoping for his comeuppance. His Howard Ratner is not a good guy. He’s a loud, frenetic gambling addict who’s cheating on his wife (Idina Menzel) with one of his employees (Julia Fox) and taking advantage of everyone he meets. But when he procures a huge black opal smuggled in from Ethiopia with plans to auction it off to settle his considerable debts, he feels like things are finally going his way. But from the moment the stone comes into his life, everything spins even further out of control than it was before. And you’re with him for every single anxiety inducing minute of it.

Reflections, Ruminations and Review: Richard Jewell

This movie hits close to home on so many levels. I was living in Atlanta in 1996, freelancing in news, and was even supposed to be volunteering as a pseudo security guard at Centennial Park on the night of the bombing. I still have the uniform, though I never “served” – opting instead for a paid gig with NBC NewsChannel, helping local affiliates cover the Olympics from a rooftop about a half-mile away from the park. I remember getting home from work after midnight, turning on the TV and a short time later, hearing about the bombing. I remember transitioning from NBC to CNN when the Games ended. I remember the media frenzy surrounding Richard Jewell, who lived with his mother in an apartment complex off Buford Highway, close to my favorite bowling alley. I don’t remember to what extent I believed or shared the details about Richard Jewell’s alleged role in the bombing. But I do recall having great faith in our sources at the FBI and ATF, and in the reporting of our hometown paper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. They all said he did it. He didn’t.

Oops doesn’t quite cut it.