What if you were the only one who remembered The Beatles? Himesh Patel finds himself in that exact position in Yesterday.

2019 and I didn’t really see eye-to-eye, at least in terms of movies.

I’ve done this list every year for a long time and I can’t remember an awards season where only one of my favorite films was nominated for an Oscar. But that happened this past year. The Academy and I both agreed that 1917 was one of the best. But that’s where we diverged.

Granted, maybe I just needed escapism this year, a break from all the chaos swelling around us. But for whatever reasons, these films stood out for me and if you’ve been reading my lists for a while, they’ll likely stand out for you too.

Yesterday

“Go See Yesterday,” I wrote in a full blog post moments after flying out of the theatre.

You just have to buy the premise. Once you do, once you’ve bought into the idea that a guy is suddenly thrust into a world where The Beatles don’t exist and never have, well, now you’re along for the magical mystery tour.

For a quick and very cursory synopsis; a struggling singer/songwriter, played by Himesh Patel, in present day England can’t seem to catch a break. He decides to quit, but then a quick 12-second, world-wide blackout hits — and he gets hit — waking up to a Beatles-less planet. That’s all you really need to know.

There are lots of twists and fun surprises. I was so sure I knew where different plot lines were headed, but I was continually wrong.

Richard Curtis (Love Actually), wrote the film. Director Danny Boyle of Slumdog Millionaire fame got the rights to 15 Beatles songs used in the movie. In the end, Ringo Starr and George Harrison’s widow both approved of the final cut.

My wife asked as the credits rolled, “Didn’t you just love the movie?”

My response, Yeah, yeah, yeah!

Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron make an unlikely duo in Long Shot.

Long Shot 

Oh!

My!

God!

I just got out of Long Shot and, “oh boy,” was it funny! But it was touching, inspiring, meaningful, raunchy and just a fantastic film. I am writing this on May 13th, 2019 and I’m guessing there will be other movies released — probably sometime in December — that I’ll like a lot. But they have a tough mountain to climb against this storyline.

A popular Secretary of State, played by Charlize Theron, hires the kid she used to babysit, played by Seth Rogen, as her speechwriter. That’s all you really need to know. But let me warn you not to walk out, or — in your case a year from now — switch to another show during the first five minutes. An older gentleman sitting down the row from me in the theatre said quite loudly, “I can’t believe they can put this crap in a movie.”

Spoiler Alert: it involved Nazis. Relax, the guy in the theatre stayed for the whole movie and enjoyed it. Also, you should be careful renting or streaming it. There are at least 25 titles on IMDB with some iteration of the words Long and Shot in their titles! Long Shot is written and executive produced by Dan Sterling who’s also known for the HBO series Girls, The Office and The Daily Show among many other credits. Liz Hannah, who co-wrote The Post also co-wrote Long Shot, so there’s a lot of talent already going into the movie before Rogen and Theron take over.

And they truly take over the entire movie. There’s a lot of slapstick, references to drug use, terrorism, gratuitous smoking — something that bugs me in movies — and political manipulation — something that REALLY bugs me in real life. But you’ll have a great time amongst all that nastiness. When you get right down to it, it’s a fun and phenomenal film.

UPDATE: Yep, even now at the end of January, it still holds up as one of the best movies of the year.

Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever are best buds in Booksmart.

Booksmart

Think Superbad, but with high school girls. I walked out of the theatre certain I wouldn’t write this next line. But dang, one of the two main characters reminded me so much of Jonah Hill. Nope, that’s too male-centric and doesn’t give her the glowing respect she deserves.

Then I logged onto IMDB and pushed back from the screen laughing. Beanie Feldstein? She’s Jonah Hill’s younger sister! Damn, was this a funny, funny film.

No, her co-star Kaitlyn Dever is NOT Michael Cera’s sister, but Feldstein and Dever paired up equally, if not better than their male counterparts from Superbad a dozen years ago. It’s too trite to say the movie exudes girl power. It’s more appropriate to say the young women own this film and guys had better back the F off.

Directed by Olivia Wilde in her first feature-length stint, the movie follows the two young women during the evening before and the day of high school graduation. What have they missed during all their years of studying? They’re about to find out. You may think you’ve seen stories like this, but you definitely haven’t. It’s sweet, edgy, incredibly (book) smart and hilarious. Several SNL alums play minor roles, including Wilde’s husband Jason Sudekis as the principal and, well, another character.

This sets the bar high (school) for teen Rom Com/coming-of-age movies. Last I checked, this movie was sitting at a lofty 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. Wilde really should’ve been nominated in the Best Director category, but I guess they only wanted men nominated this year.

Watch this movie; you won’t be disappointed.

Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay traverse No man’s land in 1917.

1917

1917 was riveting.

It’s an epic WWI movie, filmed to look like it was shot in one continuous take, over a 24-hour period. In it, soldiers are tasked with getting a vital message to their front lines by foot, miles away, through enemy territory and No man’s land. Imagine Saving Private Ryan meets the last of The Lord of the Rings movie: The Return of the King.

It’s intense, beautifully filmed, emotional and immediate. George MacKay — who starred in Pride, my favorite film of 2014 — leads us through the trenches, bombed-out villages and filth of war in the ravaged French countryside. I am astounded that MacKay didn’t receive a Best Actor nomination. Coincidentally, the ubiquitous Andrew Scott — who was also in Pride — had a cameo in this film.

The movie is dedicated to director and co-writer Sam Mendes’s grandfather, who told tales from his days as a soldier on the Western front in WWI. Even though it’s fictional, his grandfather was a messenger and inspired the film.

I was anxious to see this movie, anxious during the movie, happy when it was over and appreciate most everything about it.

To hear more, Scott Simon did a nice NPR interview with Mendes.

Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman play Fox News personalities and Margot Robbie plays an amalgam of women in Bombshell.

Bombshell

Any movie, or anything really, that takes on Fox “News” is going to get my attention. The so called “news” organization lies 59% of the time and tells half-truths 19% of the time according to Politifact.

Bombshell has dual meanings:

  • The “stunning” information that Fox personalities were harassing female coworkers.

  • The woman were “bombshells” in the archaic, male-centric meaning of the term.

The movie follows the scandalous news that broke about a group of women who were suing Fox. It started in real life with Gretchen Carlson — played by Nicole Kidman. It grew to include at least two dozen women who sued Fox exec Roger Ailes — whom the movie focuses on mostly — and then Bill O’Reilly.

There were many great performances in this movie, but without a doubt, Charlize Theron’s role exploded onto the screen. Theron evaporated in the role and all we could see was host Megyn Kelly. Yes, I guess somewhere inside that character was the Oscar-winning actress, but all I saw was the Kelly we’ve seen over the years. I defy you to see it/her any differently.

It’s a great Good vs. Evil tale with so many Hollywood stars, it’s sometimes impossible to find them in their bit roles. Richard Kind morphs into Rudy Giuliani; Stephen Root is barely recognizable as lawyer Neil Mullen; and hey, wasn’t that Allison Janney hiding out as lawyer and political operative Susan Estrich? Amazing!

You’ll likely love this movie whether you’re a liberal or a conservative.

Ana de Armas and Daniel Craig star in Knives Out.

Knives Out

Lots of stars assemble in this ensemble that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Seriously, watch it just for Daniel Craig’s southern accent, “Kentucky fried” as they say. Picture James Bond impersonating an antebellum southern gentleman and you’ll have it.

It’s a whodunit, or more like, who didn’t do it. Imagine it as a cross between the ‘80s movie Clue, the ‘70s movie Murder By Death and any Agatha Christie book or movie ever. The mansion itself is also a character in the movie; the black comedy was partly filmed in the same place that the Ghostbusters reboot was filmed. Mermaids and Shutter Island were shot there too.

Oh right, the plot. Well, someone dies in the beginning and a detective sorts through the suspects. But you probably could’ve figured out that mystery all on your own. You’ll have fun watching this movie. At first I wasn’t interested in seeing it until my college roommate, Tom, told me it was a blast. Glad I listened.

Ana de Armas and Daniel Craig will team up again in the upcoming James Bond movie, No Time to Die. She’ll be a Bond girl; he’ll be 007.

Mystery Hint: see if you hear Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, or Cookie Monster during the movie. If not, ask me about it in the comments below.

Mindy Kaling plays a new writer for Emma Thompson in Late Night.

Late Night

The host of a long-running late-night talk show, played by Emma Thompson, has been resting on her laurels for about a decade. Now, in a last-ditch attempt to become relevant, she hires a female “writer,” Mindy Kaling, to help in the all-male writer’s room.

Kaling shines in this movie, but maybe not how you might expect; she wrote the screenplay and co-produced the movie. In an NPR interview by Michel Martin, she says, “We talk a lot in the movie about the fact that Molly (her character) is a diversity hire and I can’t think of another movie or TV show that really talks about this head-on with that term. The truth of the matter is the term has really pejorative connotations. I was a diversity hire at The Office when I started writing, and it’s the reason I had the job — because NBC was paying my salary so that The Office could hire me without having to take a hit on their budget. … For years I was so embarrassed by that and I never wanted anyone to know — although of course it was plain as day. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that that program and diversity hire is something that I should be wearing proudly, because what it did was it gave me access to work on a show that I would not have had otherwise.”

But apart from the social consciousness of the writing, it’s just a fun Rom (sometimes) Com (always). The backstage backbiting and intrigue is balanced out by the on-stage humor and cadence of change. Thompson, as always, is nuanced, unpredictable and memorable as late night host Katharine Newbury — an unfortunately fictional female host who broke the talk show glass ceiling decades earlier. 

As with Olivia Wilde directing Booksmart, it’s simply silly that Mindy Kaling didn’t get a Best Original Screenplay nomination. But hey, they did give one woman a co-writing nomination, Krysty Wilson-Cairns for 1917. Yeesh.

Fun Tidbit: The movie was filmed in only 25 days and several real life celebrities show up as themselves including Seth Meyers (who plays Seth Meyers), Bill Maher (who plays Bill Maher) and Jake Tapper (you get the picture).

Eddie Murphy plays the real-life Rudy Ray Moore in Dolemite Is My Name.

Dolemite Is My Name

“…and fucking up motherfuckers is my game.”

Eddie Murphy stars in a biopic that I honestly didn’t think was real. Spoiler Alert: it’s real. Seriously, throughout the whole two hours, I thought it was just a fun take on 1970’s Blaxploitation films. Well, it was a fun take — a funny, heartfelt and informatively fun take. But the movie and character it’s based on were absolutely real.

In mid-1970s L.A., Rudy Ray Moore, a record store assistant manager, turned singer, turned comic, turned pretend pimp, turned to movie making in order to get more recognition for his alter ego, Dolemite. You can tell Eddie Murphy had a great time making this picture, but so did all his co-stars, including Keegan-Michael Key, Tituss Burgess and The Office’s Craig Robinson.

The film focuses on Moore’s trajectory from brushing off a Skid Row wino (played by Ron Cephas Jones from This is Us) to using the wino’s old comedic stories from African-American folklore on stage in his act. Turning his schtick into a low-budget movie, all hell breaks loose on set and off. The plot runs from outlandish scenes, like a bad-ass all-female kung-fu brigade, to touching, real moments like when breakout actress Da’Vine Joy Randolph declares, “I ain’t never seen nobody who looks like me up there on that big screen.”

As my friend Kelley L. Carter writes in The Undefeated, “that line is an exclamation point for Randolph’s existence in Hollywood — her representation and visibility on stage, on TV and now, in film.”

Like several other based-on-reality films, this one also ends with scenes from the original 1975 so-bad-it-was-good version.

Rebel Wilson, Liam Hemsworth and Priyanka Chopra dance in a fantasy sequence in Isn’t It Romantic.

Isn’t It Romantic

Rebel Wilson is a cynical architect who just can’t catch a break with her coworkers, her life, even her dog. But then, after an accident, she wakes up and finds she’s trapped inside a romantic comedy and everything changes.

Yes, the movie plays with most every possible Rom Com trope, but it’s okay because she listed them in an on-screen rant earlier, before actually waking up in one. The fourth wall is broken again and again, yet you just go along with it because — well — you’re watching a Rom Com.

Beautiful actors like Priyanka Chopra and Liam Hemsworth add their supposed charm and prettiness (or pettiness), but for the crucial culminating scene(s) it takes the fun, comedic, talented Wilson and Adam Devine to bring home the real meaning of the movie.

I got to watch this, huddled together with my family during their last evening of a too-brief visit before my daughters flung themselves west again. We all laughed, enjoyed the feminist power in the film and loved the — again fourth-wall-shattering — final scene showing that none of the stars took themselves too seriously. 

Helpful Hint: Don’t confuse this movie with I Feel Pretty, the Amy Schumer movie where she wakes up after an accident and thinks she’s super hot. Before seeing them both, it can seem like they’re very similar.

Brie Larson is Captain Marvel.

Captain Marvel 

You probably won’t walk away from Captain Marvel with a renewed perspective on life or a feeling that you just witnessed something profound. But I’m guessing you’ll leave the theatre with a smile.

I don’t know a lot about the comic universes that DC and Marvel inhabit, but that doesn’t really matter with this movie. Yes, I’d probably get more of the inside jokes; though I DID recognize Stan Lee in one of his very last cameos — may he rest in wonderment. There were young children in the audience and, apart from the toddler who stopped caring 2/3 of the way through, they seemed riveted as they cheered and laughed along with the action.

Brie Larson’s magnetic charm carries the viewer through the mind-bending, time-shifting, galaxy-hopping plot. There are some great empowerment messages in the script and somehow, the formula that comic book movies seem to follow doesn’t feel formulaic. In the end, it’s just plain fun.

And that wraps up my Favorite Films of 2019.

It’s interesting to me that two of my Top Ten movies portray a character waking up from an accident, with everything in the world changing around them.

I wonder if we could do that with our current political climate? I’ll keep dreaming, but not by accident.

To see my other year’s favorites, you can click here for a list.

(And yes, I still think The Fault in Our Stars was a fine film, five years later.)