As 2019 comes to a close, it’s time for the Fourth Annual Sticky List! Instead of banging the drum for my top ten films of the year, I like to share the ten films whose touch lingered the most. This year there is a bit of an overlap between Best Of and Sticky, but as it’s the first time, I’m not going to quibble about it. Instead, I’m just going to encourage you all to watch each one of these films. Some are likely ones you heard about, but there’s some special ones, too. Likely one or two you either didn’t hear about or completely passed over. This list is intended to encourage a second thought or glance. Not all of our favorite films continue on to gold and glory. Sometimes they just nestle in deeply to our hearts. These are the top ten films of 2019 that did just that.
For my full Best of 2019 list, head to my LetterBoxd account to see all films I loved in 2019. Honorable mentions are, as always, listed at the bottom.
Presented in Alphabetical Order:
Director: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo.
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Karen Gillan, Danai Gurira, Bradley Cooper, and Josh Brolin.
Avengers: Endgame is a once-in-a-lifetime type of film, not because of any kind of grand meaning or cultural shift instigated by its contents, but because Endgame represents the cumulative efforts of hundreds of people across 23-total films in close to eleven years. There have been other franchises before it and many, if the studios have their way, will come after, but the singularity that is Endgame will not be replicated. Without sacrificing any aspect of the individual narratives within the film itself, Endgame manages to close a variety of loops in meaningful ways. Ledgers were cleared, heroes returned, personal journeys came to a close, and each of it felt earned. As often as the Marvel Cinematic Universe gets lambasted for lacking any sense of weight, Endgame doesn’t slack in instilling significant stakes by acknowledging that this battle has been coming for near a decade. Plus, audiences were treated to the sight of Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man cold-cocking a Leviathan. Doesn’t get much better than that.
Director: Olivia Wilde.
Cast: Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jessica Williams with Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte and Jason Sudeikis.
One word: Gigi.
Though not a lead, Billie Lourd runs away with the film from the moment she appears on the screen screaming at Skylar Gisondo’s Jared as the mystical and enigmatic Gigi. She is a singular constant in a whirl of adventures that Dever and Feldstein’s Amy and Molly engage in as they try to make up for several years’ worth of missed parties the night before graduation. If there’s one thing that pulls the shine off Booksmart, it’s the constant comparisons to Superbad. While those characters are similarly on the outskirts of popularity, Amy and Molly aren’t going out to get laid or cause trouble, but to, for once, rage with their classmates both as a show of comradery and to, perhaps, change the way people remember them. The script from Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel, and Katie Silberman never cheapens the friendship or exaggerates the choices of the classmates, instilling a vibe of authenticity throughout the film. The questions they ask are timeless in nature yet, through the talented cast first-time feature director Olivia Wilde assembled, the whole film feels modern and contemporary. Who among us hasn’t wished we’d found somewhere to fit in? Who among us hasn’t longed for the kind of loyalty Amy and Molly have for one another? I was lucky enough to have those friends in High School. None of us, though, could ever be lucky enough to have a Gigi.
Director: Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck.
Cast: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan, Algenis Perez Soto, Rune Temte, McKenna Grace, with Clark Gregg and Jude Law.
Captain Marvel is the strangest addition on this list. Upon first watch, it felt derivative in the way it clung to the other films in the MCU to tell its story versus carving its own. Despite this, I’ve returned to this film on multiple occasions since the home release. The things which bug me (like a missed opportunity for diegetic sound when No Doubt’s “Just a Girl” plays during a fight sequence) are reduced to mere annoyances in light of all the things Captain Marvel does well. It took one of the most powerful and untrustworthy villains in the history of Marvel Comics and made them refugees. It created an opportunity to showcase that owning one’s power as an individual will make your spirit impossible to break. Though it would be easy to ascribe Captain Marvel as anti-male, it’s actually anti-asshole and pro-humanist. Not only do we get to see Nick Fury sing while helping with the dishes, but we get to observe the real bad guys (militaristic fanatics) see what happens when fear is your only tactic. Also, the sequence where the Skrulls try to infiltrate Carol Danver’s mind is one of my top ten favorites in the MCU. I like how it plays with the audiences’ perception as much as Carol’s.
Director: Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee.
Cast: Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff, Idina Menzel, and Josh Gad.
Without hesitation I will tell you that I did not care for the first Frozen film. I saw it months after it hit home video and, while I applaud the story for subverting the usual prince-princess fairytale Disney is so well known for, it just didn’t connect with me. And yet, somehow, not only did the sequel’s songs from Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez worm their way into my brain (Show Yourself/Lost in the Woods), but so did the story. If Frozen is asking “who am I?,” then Frozen II ponders “how do I fit into the world?” Many have asserted Elsa’s LGBTQ status given the language she uses and the lack of a male love interest. If she is, great. Representation matters and if Disney were to make this canon, all the better. For me personally, I almost always feel like an outcast. That my interests run to contrary from most — too nerdy (or not enough), too smart (or not enough) — result in all manner of feeling like an imposter no matter what group I try to join or ingratiate myself into. When I hear the words, “you are the one you’ve been waiting for all of your life,” it’s difficult not to burst into tears. Amid the larger story of magical spirits and bringing peace to two warring communities, there’s an internal story of self-love and empowerment that cries out to the misfits: we see you and we love you.
Director: Rian Johnson.
Cast: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana De Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, LaKeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Noah Segan, Edi Patterson, Riki Lindhome, Jaeden Martell, and Christopher Plummer.
What’s not to love about Rian Johnson’s comedic whodunit Knives Out? The clever script holds up on repeat viewings, enabling the audience to catch all the little details missed previously; the score by Nathan Johnson beautifully matches cinematographer Steve Yedlin’s modern gothic style; and the cast is obviously having a ball in every scene. This is all within a film which skewers the rich as it explores classism, racism, and nepotism without sacrificing an ounce of satirical power in the comedy. So while the film does give us Chris Evans’s sweater, it also gives us Daniel Craig as an unassuming Southern detective and Ana De Armas as a kind-hearted nurse, two characters audiences don’t expect to be the center focus of the film, but, considering the self-centered Thrombey family presumes everything revolves around them, it’s particularly fitting.
Director: Robert D. Krzykowski.
Cast: Sam Elliott, Aidan Turner, Ron Livingston, Caitlin FitzGerald, Larry Miller, and Ellar Coltrane.
Krzykowski’s The Man Who has rarely left my thoughts after my first watch. The name is pure grindhouse, but the execution is far more personal as it explores what heroism looks like and what it really means to the person being idolized. It explores what war does to the soldier and how adulation isn’t a real prize when the cost is everything that person held dear. The fact that the titular man is sent to kill the Bigfoot because it is unknowingly killing people via a contagion after he was sent, decades before, to kill Hitler because he was knowingly killing people is brutally powerful. The Man Who asks the audience to consider what they think about heroism outside of news reels and comic books, to look into the quiet moments of mundanity and consider what the actions of so-called heroes cost. It doesn’t hurt that Sam Elliott delivers one of the best performances of the year, exemplified by a monologue he gives sitting across from Ron Livingston’s no-name government agent. Don’t confuse slow for boring. The film builds to a powerful crescendo.
Director: Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz.
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, and Zack Gottsagen.
There’s something so undeniably pure about Nilson and Schwartz’s The Peanut Butter Falcon. Some of it is their story — a tale of misfits coming together to create a family — but the bulk of it has to do with Zack Gottsagen. This film would not exist without his influence and, despite claims of his “supporting” status, Gottsagen is the true leader of the film. So many films would try to put Gottasagen’s Zak into the usual tropes applied to actors or characters with disabilities, but Nilson and Schwartz circumvent all of that by crafting a character as close to the real Zack as possible, one who is filled with good and bad as equally as anyone else, one who isn’t looking to improve anyone else by proximity, or teach a lesson, but is merely looking to live his life like everyone else. The authenticity of the script is elevated by a year-best performance from Gottsagen, supported by some of the best work LeBouf’s done in his entire career. The film alone is joyful and beautiful, but their performances (Johnson’s, too) grasp you by the heart and hug your soul. I would invite this film to my birthday party.
Director: Hiroyuki Imaishi.
Cast: Billy Kametz, Johnny Yong Bosch, Crispin Freeman, Alyson Leigh Rosenfeld, Neil Kaplan, Erica Lindbeck, Kari Wahlgren, Steve Blum, Mike Pollock, John Bentley, Billy Bob Thompson, Matt Mercer, Yuri Lowenthal, and Melissa Fahn.
There have been many films which have felt like a rollercoaster ride of emotion, but few that felt like an *actual* rollercoaster. This animated feature doesn’t hit my soul the way Frozen II does. Rather, it tickles the hindbrain, squeezes the pituitary, and generally induces a near-immediate joygasm. Released by GKids in an extremely limited release twice in 2019, Promare is the story of a group of firefighters specially trained to combat mutated humans who have the ability to create fire. On the surface, it doesn’t sounds particularly new or fresh, but the further into the film you go, the more singular it becomes. Helping pull people in, Imaishi and writer Kazuki Nakashima utilize several anime tropes people know and then spend the rest of the film teasing, toying, and otherwise manipulating those tropes to create something undeniably refreshing. It certainly helps that odd couple leads Lio Fotia and Galo Thymos are designed atypical from the expectations of a fire-creator and fire-fighter and that the score from composer Hiroyuki Sawano is instantly infectious. Similar to how repeat viewings of Knives Out help to unearth the details in the work, so too does Promare require the same treatment due to the often dizzying action sequences amid the somehow kinetic animation.
Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett.
Cast: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien, with Henry Czerny and Andie MacDowell.
EAT THE RICH!
This is the thought that ran through my brain upon the first watch of the devilishly clever horror comedy from Fox Searchlight. It’s not just because the narrative eviscerates the use of mindless traditions in all families, especially those by wealthy ones, but it’s in the way Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy’s script leaves room for the supernatural elements of the film to be total hogwash. While many films don’t work on multiple viewings once the surprises and scares are known, the performances by Weaving, Brody, and from the rest of the cast are so incredibly fun, even if more overtly violent versus the passive aggressions in Knives Out, that watching them squabble is a pure delight, even as Weaving’s final girl, Grace, does her best to process the insanity of her in-laws’ traditions and make it out alive. Then again, who among us hasn’t felt a little separated from our in-laws? Who hasn’t wondered if we’d ever feel fully comfortable engaging in someone else’s rituals without feeling othered? Take all of that insecurity and make it bloody, you’ve got Ready or Not. Truth is, you won’t be and that’s why it’s so much fun.
Director: Dexter Fletcher.
Cast: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, Gemma Jones, and Bryce Dallas Howard.
The genius of Rocketman is the decision to make the film a musical and not a straight film. For one, nothing less than the full glory of a Broadway show is fitting for subject Elton John, but it also allows the songs to function not as things created in his life, but as aspects of it. Does it change the meaning of several of the songs John crafted with writing partner Bernie Taupin? Yes. But it’s not like they completely rewrote the history of their relationship in order to create drama and intrigue (looking at you, Bohemian Rhapsody). Rather, Lee and Fletcher put on a show wherein nothing is sacred and everything is up for grabs. It’s not only a riveting tale of the soon-to-be retired showman, but the new arrangements from the film are near masterworks themselves, impossibly breathing new life into the well-known tunes. That is in no small part to Egerton who delivers a truly transformative performance and who sings all of the songs himself. My only theory for why Rocketman isn’t in the discussion for Best Picture and Best Actor is that voting circles felt it was just another biopic of another ‘70’s rock icon and didn’t give it proper attention. All the films on this list are worthy of “Best Of” inclusion for one reason or another. Rocketman, however, is blasting on all cylinders and rarely misfires.
Pokémon Detective Pikachu, Shazam!, Batman vs Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Chained For Life, Descendants 3, Balloon (short), Freaks, Luz, Us, Ophelia, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, Always Be My Maybe, Furie, Alita: Battle Angel, and Extracurricular Activities.