Both John and Colin talked about how unusually good this year was at the cinema, so I gotta admit: there are a lot of good movies I haven’t seen yet due to an unusually hectic December and January. Given that it’s award season, it stings that I haven’t seen prestige pictures like 1917 and Little Women, indie darlings like The Souvenir and The Last Black Man in San Francisco, foreign films like Pain and Glory and Ash is Purest White, or literally any 2019 documentaries.
But! I did see a lot of shitty movies. I went to the movies with my dad most Tuesdays last year, and that meant I saw some real clunkers, like Men in Black: International, Dark Phoenix, and Terminator: Dark Fate. It also meant I got to spend more time with my family and see a lot of my favorite movies of the year more than once, so I wouldn’t change a thing. In fact, it even helped me pick up on a pattern in cinema this year: If 2017 was the year of the mom, 2019 was the year of the dad.
Ford v Ferrari is the ultimate dad movie, the story of cool renegade fathers wearing sunglasses and fighting back against the pencil-pushers to prove they know best. It pretends one of the largest companies in the history of the world is an underdog, even though it admits that everything Ford is doing is motivated by petty spite. But underneath that is the idea that passionate people can succeed on a scale they never would have on their own by working really hard to keep corporate drones happy. Which maybe means something coming from James Mangold, a director who made the best X-Men movie and even had to deal with Fox being sold to Disney before Ford v Ferrari was finished. Also good: fast cars in dangerous situations, Matt Damon letting his glasses to all the acting, Christian Bale playing a LIKABLE asshole for a change.
For the absentee dad, we have Ad Astra, a movie about Brad Pitt trying extraordinarily hard to just get his father, Tommy Lee Jones, to come on home (instead of destroying humanity). Ad Astra actually has a lot of really great actors in small parts: Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler, and Natasha Lyonne, even Donald Sutherland isn’t around as much as I’d have expected. It’s all in service of exploring the mental state of Brad Pitt’s Roy McBride, a badass spaceman who’s going through some trouble staying connected to humanity. It’s one of Pitt’s two great performances this year. I also appreciated all the cool sci fi set pieces, many of which felt extremely original, despite there being a movie like this basically every year now.
Perhaps the only movie on this list that could stand up to Ford v Ferrari‘s claim to throne of 2019 dad movies is The Irishman. I stand by all the stuff we said about Scorsese’s final(?) gangster epic being too long and the de-aging tech being imperfect. However, the ending of the movie makes it all worth it. Again and again, from Taxi Driver through The Wolf of Wall Street, Scorsese has hammered home the point that these glamorous lives of crime aren’t worth the moral cost. Despite that, it’s never hit me as hard as it did at the end of The Irishman, and maybe that is because, like a 21st Century version of Raging Bull, we get to see the transformation of the main characters’ bodies. Maybe that really was the best way to make this movie? I don’t know. It’s good though.
For the dad who’s had enough of his family, there’s Knives Out. Christopher Plummer is actually playing younger in this movie, as his character, wealthy authoer Harlan Thrombey, has just turned 85 was Plummer is actually 90 years old. And dude’s still got it, when he reappears in a flashback toward the end of the movie, it really hit me how much I had missed his presence in the film. I had a lot of fun both times I saw this murder mystery and am honestly giddy about the idea of writer-director Rian Johnson and star Daniel Craig re-teaming for a Benoit Blanc sequel. Although, if Johnson is willing to make his first sequel, I wish he had done that one franchise ago.
6. Uncut Gems
One of the many pressures put upon Adam Sandler’s Howard Ratner in Uncut Gems is his responsibility to step up as a husband and father. Alongside all his wheeling and dealing, he still has to make time to do things like go to his daughter’s play or bring his son up with him to his apartment to pee. That last one probably doesn’t make sense if you haven’t seen the movie, but trust me, it’s tense. Howard is a disaster and undoubtedly everyone’s life would be better with him out of it, but I couldn’t help but root for the guy. I think that’s what Joker was supposed to be going for?
Wow, what a treat it was to see Tzi Ma, TV’s go-to vaguely evil Chinese official, play a fully realized character in The Farewell. I could see some of my own father in Billi’s dad, as they both immigrated to America, were the youngest son, and lost their father years before their mother. Family is weird and that mixture of duty, tradition, and unconditional love can make people act in unexpected ways. I really related to how The Farewell represented that, even though obviously so much of this situation is unlike my own experiences. Also Nai Nai is one of the best characters all year and Zhao Shuzhen deserved some award love.
I imagine one of the hardest parts about deciding to start a family is having to choose how much of your life you’re willing to give up. Marriage Story is a movie about one character realizing she sacrificed more than she realized, and another stubbornly trying to avoid making that choice. Like Kramer vs. Kramer before it, this movie shows a newly-single father struggling to adapt to the toll being a single parent takes. But unlike that movie, it’s never really in question that Charlie (Adam Driver) loves and can take care of his son on his own. That’s progress, I guess… I feel I’ve gotten sidetracked because of my insistence on making everything about fatherhood. This is an expertly made movie centered around two terrific performances. It left me with plenty to think about. Netflix man, who knew?
3. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
I think the dad’s love Tarantino almost as much as they love Scorsese. Whatever it takes to get lots of swears, violence, and just generally a long runtime. Tarantino gets bonus dad points for this one by setting it in late-sixties Hollywood and centering on an aging Westerns star. I’ll have you know my dad re-watched all of Rawhide last year, so this was right up his alley. Personally, I think it was really cool that Tarantino made a hangout movie about some real bros. It’s like he used all those millions of dollars to create his idealized world, and invited us to live in it with him for two hours and 41 minutes.
My favorite pick from our first season of The Pick was Parasite, which I think produced a pretty great conversation. A lot of the movie hinges on the actions of the two fathers, who both want to provide for their families but have totally different experiences trying to do that due to their classes. I think a lot of what seemed shocking during the experience of watching Parasite actually makes a lot of sense upon reflection, which makes me really want to see it again. But that fucking rock, man. What’s the rock represent? WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH THE ROCK?!
The MCU is about dad’s, this much we all know. After a series of bad dad villains, Thanos emerged as ultimate bad dad. To stop him, Avengers: Endgame elevated Tony Stark from a surrogate father to an actual one, and that’s worked out pretty well so far. I cannot emphasize how weirdly complete I felt after seeing this movie at the Seattle Cinerama. Like, 10 years of movies led to this and they stuck the landing. That shit is hard, as both Justice League and Rise of Skywalker have recently proven. For like a month there, I didn’t know what to do with myself. And the delightfully solid Spider-Man: Homecoming wasn’t enough to pull me back into being as excited as I used to be for the MCU. Movies have made me cry, and laugh, and get angry… Those strong emotional reactions are part of why I love the medium. I don’t think any movie has ever made me feel as content and satisfied as Avengers: Endgame. So it’s my number one.