Top Ten Films and TV Shows of 2019

2019 proved to be a smorgasbord of genre offerings on film and TV as have been most of the years in this concluding decade. Many of the films and TV shows on this list have been widely acclaimed, one of the films became the highest grossing film of all time, another looks to be revered at the Academy Awards, while a couple of the TV shows have caught the public zeitgeist. Here are the best films and TV shows of 2019. Of course, this list is purely subjective, so apologies to anyone wondering why Cats did not make the list. 😀

Onward to 2020 and the rest of the coming decade!

Films

Mcbride at space elevator

10. Ad Astra

This space drama starring Brad Pitt as an astronaut searching for his father was quietly involving as it took audiences into a tour through the solar system. For the most part, it was a grounded and breathtaking look at space travel in the near future. It stumbles in the third act, but what came before was quite memorable.

9. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

Visually arresting while staying focused on its emotional core and story, the third and final How to Train Your Dragon film capped off a wonderful trilogy. Thanks to this film, the trilogy achieved the difficult distinction of being part of a trilogy where all the films in it were great.

8. Alita: Battle Angel

The stylish live-action adaptation of the classic manga became a cult classic for good reason. Stunning visuals and a brilliant mo-cap performance by Rosa Salazar as Alita were the best highlights in this action-packed, cyberpunk epic.

7. Shazam!

In a crowded superhero film landscape, Shazam! managed to be something unique and stood out in the field. Shazam! was witty, genuinely heartfelt and refreshing that worked as a quirky family drama, coming-of-age romp and a fun superhero film that helped to reinvigorate the struggling DCEU.

6. Toy Story 4

The fourth and final Toy Story film was just as funny, whimsical and poignant as the previous films. It introduced charming and hysterical new characters while touching our hearts as our favorite toys moved on with their lives.

5. Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Big, loud, and explosive like its marque monsters, Godzilla: King of the Monsters was ravaged by critics but enjoyed by the rest. No doubt, the plot, logic and characters were muddled and not essential, but who cared? This was supposed to be a big-budget kaiju throwdown and it delivered that with its jaw dropping effects and sequences of monsters stomping on cities and each other.

4. Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker

The last (until 2022) of the Star Wars films was a rousing, loud and messy conclusion to the nine-film Skywalker Saga. Director J.J. Abrams had the unenviable task of tying up the Star Wars films, while undoing much of what occurred in the previous Star Wars Saga film. The results were not pretty, but his efforts worked with this fast-paced space fantasy that was flawed but satisfying as it celebrated all that was great about Star Wars.

black and red spidey

3. Spider-Man: Far From Home

The final film in Phase Three of the MCU successfully entertained audiences with the breezy misadventures of everyone’s favorite teenage superhero. The second Spider-Man solo film set in the MCU continued to showcase his angst and mishaps as he went on a European school trip. Aside from the laughs at Spidey’s expense, Spider-Man: Far From Home showcased his emotional growth and maturity as he faced adulthood and the aftermath of the events of Avengers: Endgame. The mid-credits scene was a genuine stunner that left us itching for the next film, which will thankfully happen.

2. Joker

Disturbing and at the same time captivating, Joker echoed other character studies of emotionally broken men like Taxi Driver or The King of Comedy. The DC film thoroughly explored the psychological deterioration of the disturbed Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) in his dismal and empty life in the gritty streets of Gotham. The film felt more like a documentary set in the hellish streets that evoked New York City in the 1970s that happened to chronicle the origin of Batman’s greatest villain.

But what struck viewers most was the performance by Phoenix as the man who becomes the Joker (depending on one’s interpretation, Fleck may not even be the actual Joker). His portrayal made Fleck a somewhat sympathetic person, yet terrifying at the same time. The unease culminated during Fleck’s complete breakdown as he embraced anarchy and chaos, which spread like a virus throughout Gotham’s restless populace.

1. Avengers: Endgame

Some may think of Avengers: Endgame as just a direct sequel to Avengers: Infinity War, but it was much more than that. Avengers Endgame was the epic, grand finale of the massive Infinity Saga which spanned over 20 films set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Featuring most of the characters from the past MCU films (many of them played by high-caliber thespians), the fourth Avengers film powerfully concluded the Infinity Saga that started back in 2008 when Tony Stark first emerged from a cave wearing a suit of armor.

Avengers: Endgame is so much more than your typical comic book film with topnotch effects and fight scenes. Though it has plenty of those! This film took the time to explore the emotional aftermath of the heroes’ failures during Avengers: Infinity War and their long road back to redemption. From there, the film becomes a hysterical and exciting time travel romp rivaling the best of the Back to the Future films before culminating in an action-jammed third act. The final act of the film was already renowned for having the greatest superhero battle ever shown on film that doubles as a who’s who of superheroes against the forces of Thanos. However, Avengers: Endgame’s heart-tugging and fitting coda left an everlasting impression among viewers as it reflected on and ultimately celebrated the heroes and achievement of the MCU.

Honorable Mentions:

Brightburn; Captain Marvel; Crawl; Dark Phoenix; Doctor Sleep; Glass; It: Chapter Two; Jumanji: The Next Level; Replicas; Us; Zombieland: Double Tap

TV Shows

10. Undone

A beautifully animated and captivating series used rotoscoping to illustrate the fluid reality experienced by its main character Alma (Rosa Salazar). After a near-death experience, she gains the ability to move through time and reality as she helps her dead father solve his murder. The animation was quite unique, but its character study was even more provocative.

9. Watchmen

Less of a sequel to Alan Moore and David Gibbons’ seminal comic book and more of a spinoff, Watchmen was highlighted by its timely and relevant storylines set in an alternate world that surprised audiences.

8. The Handmaid’s Tale

The third season of this dystopian look at America under a brutal theocratic rule was as haunting as ever. Still, despite its harshness, the show changed gears with new characters and new aspects of society while providing glimmers of hope to keep us watching.

jon kills daenerys

7. Game of Thrones

Yes, the final season of Game of Thrones was a letdown compared to the other seasons of this landmark fantasy show. It was rushed and left many unanswered questions. Nevertheless, Game of Thrones’ final season managed to conclude its sprawling epic tale of warring kingdoms with terrific, unmatched production values, effects and acting.

6. Stranger Things

The loving tribute to 1980s genre flicks continued to entertain viewers in its third season. The characters, including Eleven, were allowed to grow and mature as they faced off against interdimensional threats to their small town in Indiana. This growth and breakout new characters were the true stars of Stranger Things, not the monsters.

5. The Expanse

The decade’s best sci-fi TV show got a new lease on life in its fourth season thanks to Amazon Prime. The story of mankind’s first clumsy steps into becoming an interstellar civilization was just as enthralling as previous seasons thanks to above-par scripts, excellent special effects and its grounded and realistic aspect.

4. The Boys

Amazon Prime’s entry into superhero TV shows popped out with its black humor and graphic violence as it illustrated the seedier and more cynical side of superheroes. Graphic nature aside, The Boys was well put together and offered an engrossing behind-the-scenes look at superheroes (if you can call them that).

3. Doom Patrol

Superhero TV shows have stepped up their game and pushed boundaries. Then there is Doom Patrol, which as the best superhero TV show of 2019 added the weird to weirdness. Doom Patrol embraced its quirky and bizarre comic book roots and enthralled us with goofy, misfit characters and outrageous and unconventional scripts.

baby yoda and mando

2. The Mandalorian

The first live-action Star Wars TV show is easily the flagship show on the Disney+ streaming service and for good reason as it has caught the attention of the world thanks to Baby Yoda. The Mandalorian will help keep interest alive in the Star Wars franchise thanks to its simple and effective story of an enigmatic bounty hunter and the infant child he cares for.

As an ode to Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns and Lone Wolf and Cub, The Mandalorian is a mesmerizing space western with intriguing characters, namely the mysterious Mandalorian with no name, and exciting stories. And that Baby Yoda is so adorable!

1. Star Trek: Discovery

2019 had many memorable and outstanding genre TV shows. Many of which will stand the test of time. But Star Trek: Discovery comes out on top simply for exceeding expectations after its mixed first season. In its sophomore season, Star Trek: Discovery went back to basics and embraced its traditional Star Trek roots. By doing so, the TV show delivered many standout episodes, some of which can be considered to be classic Star Trek stories.

Star Trek: Discovery was also buoyed by a breakout performance by Anson Mount as Captain Christopher Pike, cinema-level effects and photography and fascinating storylines. Not every episode was great but they were solid entertainment, while others were instant classics. This season also confirmed beyond doubt that the show was clearly set in the actual prime Star Trek universe, which was a relief for many. In many ways, the second season of Star Trek: Discovery helped revive interest in the Star Trek franchise, which will hopefully be fueled by the upcoming Star Trek: Picard.

Honorable Mentions:

Arrow; Carnival Row; Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance; For All Mankind; Legion; Lost in Space; Love, Death & Robots; Runaways; Star Trek: Short Treks; Titans; The Twilight Zone; The Witcher; Years and Years

The Coming Star Trek Renaissance

 

Not too long ago it seemed as if Star Trek was at a low point. Yes, the IP had a lot of attention thanks to its 50th anniversary, but it appeared that its corporate owners CBS and Viacom/Paramount Pictures could not fully take advantage of this event. There were many specials and such, but the only new product in 2016 was the film Star Trek Beyond, which did not do too well in the box office. In fact, to date it is the last Star Trek film to be produced. Then there was the backlash against both corporations when they came down hard on Star Trek fans with stringent, draconian guidelines regarding their ability to create fan films. At that time, aside from some TV specials, there wasn’t any original Star Trek content on TV. This was striking being that the franchise got its start in the television medium and flourished there.

However, CBS did announce at that time that a new Star Trek TV show, Star Trek: Discovery, was coming, except that it would only be available for subscribers of their new CBS All Access streaming app. So to see new Star Trek content on TV, one was forced to pay for it. This did not bode well for Star Trek: Discovery, and the show already had to face harsh criticism from disgruntled fans. Many of them balked at the design aesthetics, the cast that focused on women and people of color and different sexual orientations, and the fact that most of its season was devoted to a war. As Star Trek: Discovery debuted and failed to meet fans’ expectations, the franchise was further hobbled with the reports that a new Star Trek film was stuck in development hell. It seemed to be that as many cynics and haters were proclaiming: Star Trek was dying.

But the Star Trek franchise, as always, proved that it had life. Star Trek: Discovery began to find its legs and winning over skeptics. Its second season was light years better than its first with new cast members and better written scripts. This culminated in an epic season finale that rivaled anything seen in a Star Trek film and launched the series in a bold new direction while setting up respectfully the original TV show. That wasn’t all.

It was announced that there were other Trek shows in development. While the announcement was greeted with some interest it was Star Trek: Picard revelation that awoke the sleeping Star Trek fandom. The news that Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) star, Patrick Stewart, would reprise his iconic role of Jean-Luc Picard excited Star Trek fandom as did the news that the show would take place decades after TNG. This placated those who disliked the idea of reboots. It was clear that the original Prime Star Trek universe still existed and had stories worth exploring in it.

Star Trek: Picard was a much needed boost for the franchise as we fans eagerly wait for it to stream early next year. What added to the enthusiasm was the fact that Star Trek: Picard will feature other characters from TNG and even Star Trek: Voyager. This illustrates that the corporations finally recognized that they have their very own fictional universe to play with and utilize to its fullest. They have even given it an official name: the Star Trek Universe. We last saw this going on in the noughties with Star Trek: Nemesis and Star Trek: Enterprise. It is hoped that Star Trek: Picard will also feature characters and events from other series like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Enterprise. Additionally, there are two new animated shows coming soon and rumors of even more shows featuring the Klingon, Worf, and Captain Christopher Pike (as played by Anson Mount, who stole his scenes in Star Trek: Discovery’s second season). Even all does not seem lost on the film front. A Star Trek film directed by Quentin Tarantino is still being discussed. With all this, it can be said that a new Star Trek renaissance is upon us.

What is aiding the new coming Star Trek renaissance is that the corporations CBS and Viacom are merging and the two mediums they had the rights to, TV and film, can now fully interact with each other as last seen in noughties before both corporations separated from one another. So now full resources can be used for Star Trek with less of the corporate red tape over the usage of characters and situations.

Star Trek has faced many ups and downs throughout its fifty-plus years of existence. Some of its worst lows were after the original show and Star Trek: Enterprise were canceled. But time and time again after a lull, the franchise came back strong with renewed vigor. The upcoming shows and developments clearly show that Star Trek is coming back strong.

 

 

Star Trek: Discovery Finds Its Space Legs In Its Second Season

 

*Warning: Major spoilers will follow, do not read until you have seen season two of Star Trek: Discovery.

The sophomore season of Star Trek: Discovery just concluded with its epic two-part episode “Such Sweet Sorrow” and what a way to cap off a successful season!

The episode concluded the season-long “Red Angel” arc where it was revealed that Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) was the mysterious Red Angel that appeared throughout the galaxy during pivotal moments in recent history. In “Such Sweet Sorrow”, Burnham used the Red Angel suit to time travel into the past to mark her appearances in the second season and to lead the starship Discovery and the show into its bold new direction for season three.

The second season of Star Trek: Discovery was a marked improvement over the first one with compelling stories, strong characters and a respectful acknowledgment of the original canon established in previous Trek shows. Due to the many stylistic changes done to the show, even though it’s a prequel to the original Star Trek, the setting looked too advanced and didn’t gel with the original. This was unavoidable given the original show is over fifty years old, and Hollywood magic advanced considerably since then.

This led many outraged fans to dismiss Star Trek: Discovery as not a real Trek show, even though the showrunners insisted it was set in the prime timeline. The episode “If Memory Serves” reiterated this point by having an episode recap from the very first Star Trek pilot, “The Cage”, which proved once and for this show is set in the original Star Trek universe. People had to either accept the visual changes and move on or reject the show altogether. Those that accepted the show were rewarded with a well-crafted season.

At the start of the season with premier episode “Brother”, Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount), the original Enterprise captain beamed aboard the Discovery and took command. His mission was to investigate unknown red signals that appeared throughout the galaxy. It turned out the signals coincided with appearances of the enigmatic Red Angel. This figure would show up at a pivotal moment that aided the crew of the Discovery. Pike and Burnham realize that the Angel is tied in to the disappearance of his science officer Spock (Ethan Peck), who apparently went insane and murdered people. For the first half of the season, they track him, and this quest culminated with the now-classic “If Memory Serves” which took Pike and Spock back to the planet Talos IV. It turned out that Spock was framed by the secretive Section 31 organization and that Section 31 was taken over by Starfleet’s AI, Control.

The AI wanted to get access to ancient alien knowledge recently stored in the Discovery to gain sentience and Burnham received warnings that Control would eventually destroy all life in the future. This plot propelled the second half of the season and led to the truly monumental “Such Sweet Sorrow” where Control took the Section 31 fleet against the Discovery and the Enterprise. The only way to keep this knowledge away from Control was to send Discovery into the future. This led to a busy, crowded and spectacular starship battle that was simply brutal and dizzying at times. The battle sequences looked like they could have been lifted out of a modern Star Trek film that involved drones, refitted shuttles as fighters, zero-g fist fights, Klingons (who are now thankfully more in line with the traditional Klingons), and even repair droids (!).

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Star Trek: Discovery’s Canon Problem

A major complaint about Star Trek: Discovery is that for a prequel set before the original Star Trek it violates so much of what was established in the original series that it should be thought of as a straight up remake. Everyone always brings up the fact the for a prequel the world shown in Star Trek: Discovery is too advanced when compared to Star Trek or that it violates the established canon of this franchise.

There is legitimate cause to feel this way and the coy remarks by the show’s powers that be do not help matters, they promise us that the show is set in the Prime Universe of Star Trek.  But this has not satisfied many who then online negative posts and videos and proclaim the show is not true Star Trek.

Of course, a lot of the criticisms about Star Trek: Discovery are valid, but we should be careful about using the show’s look and canon problems as a reason to dismiss it as something that doesn’t belong with Star Trek.

One thing to consider is that throughout its 50-plus years Star Trek and its films and spinoffs have many continuity problems. For instance, in the early episodes of Star Trek there wasn’t a United Federation of Planets. Instead there was a United Earth Space Probe Agency, then it was never clear as to when it took place. Remember the infamous misspelling of James Kirk’s name in the second pilot “Where No Man Has Gone Before”? The good captain’s middle initial was shown to be R. instead of T.

Then there are the Klingons. In the original show they were basically swarthy humans with actors in brownface portraying them. In the first film and onwards, the aliens were revamped and looked more alien thanks to ridges now showing on their foreheads. This perplexed fans until Star Trek: Enterprise offered an onscreen explanation as to why the Klingons looked so different.

And while people love to complain about Michael Burnham being Spock’s unspoken of foster sister, what about his renegade half-brother Sybok? Until the film where Sybok first appeared (Star Trek V: The Final Frontier), Spock’s best friend Kirk didn’t know Sybok existed. It stands to reason Spock never bothered mentioning Burnham. He is a rather private person.

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Star Trek: Discovery Vs. The Orville, Part Two

Let’s continue comparing two television shows that are similar to each other on the surface—Star Trek: Discovery and The Orville. In Part One, we explained how The Orville is an homage to the traditional Star Trek TV show with its set up and characters. Now its time to look at Star Trek: Discovery, which some feel is Star Trek in name only.

When Star Trek returned to the small screen in September 2017 with Star Trek: Discovery, many fans were bitterly disappointed with what they saw. While some criticized the 6th live-action Star Trek show for its flaws, others zeroed in on the fact that this Trek show is not a traditional Star Trek show. They point out that though it’s well done it lacks the essence of what made Star Trek so special. To be honest, they are justified for feeling that way; yes, we all miss the good ol’ fashioned Star Trek with a heroic starship captain (usually a white, male human) and his diverse bridge crew going from planet to planet and solving problems by the episode’s end.

Breaking the Mold of Traditional Trek

While these vocal critics are justified with their objections about Star Trek: Discovery, we must to keep this in mind. Star Trek had to do something different to stand out. By the time the last Trek show, Star Trek: Enterprise, finished its run, Star Trek had run its creative course and fell out of favor with fans who wanted something new and exciting.

During the long hiatus between shows, the return of Star Trek to the small screen was a difficult process as many different ideas were pitched to resurrect the franchise. For a time, Bryan Fuller, a veteran of the previous Trek shows, was the showrunner for Star Trek: Discovery, but ultimately left before it first aired. He did leave his mark with the direction and look of the show which broke the mold of a traditional Star Trek program. On the surface it seems familiar: the adventures of the crew of a starship called Discovery, which takes place a few years before the very first show. But it’s not what fans expected as they found out the newest Star Trek show is a definite contrast to what we think of as Star Trek.

The franchise is known for having an optimistic view of humanity and the future. Discovery instead has a darker, more cynical tone, even more than Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which for its time was derided for being too pessimistic. This perception is also reflected in the way the show looks. The sets, despite their futuristic look, appear gloomy and cramped. Not the kind of place we’d want to be assigned to if we were at Starfleet. Dutch angles, lens flares and dim lighting accentuate the overall flashy, but depressing look of the Discovery. While all this makes show seem edgy it comes at a cost to the warmer and more inviting look of standard Trek.

Naturally, being that this is a modern show with state-of-the-art special effects and production values, the show looks more futuristic than even the Star Trek spinoffs from its 1990s golden age. Holograms are everywhere and the show’s technology is incredibly high tech. The special effects are just breathtaking and are movie quality. It’s as if mini-theatrical films are being streamed for us. Being that this is a prequel to the original show from the 1960s, this ultra-futuristic look violently clashes with what was established in Star Trek and adds to the argument that the show is not part of the proper Prime Universe.

This is an unfortunate and unavoidable due to time, advances in special effects and larger budgets. While recapturing the exact retro look of the old show works for fan films it would not for a modern show trying to attract more viewers. Still, the perception remains that this incarnation of Star Trek is so dissimilar to the Trek we know that it is hard to believe that it takes place in the prime timeline; not to mention the contradictory background information that some have spotted.

battle of binary stars

The running arc of the first season of Star Trek: Discovery was of a war between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. The way the enemy race of the Federation was reconceptualized was simply terrible. While the new makeup and ship designs made the Klingons appear more alien and fiercer, it robbed them of the bravado and spunk they were famous for.

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