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. ūüėÄ

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; Midsommar; 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

Stranger Things 2: The Second Season

Stranger things 2 poster

Stranger Things was an unexpected hit when it premiered last year on Netflix, not just with genre fans but the wider public. Everyone loved the series’ homage to ’80s sci-fi and horror films¬† and vintage Stephen King books. Given all that praise (and Emmy nominations), it’s not a surprise that a second season is now here.

Stranger Things 2 picks up about a year after the previous season in Hawkins, a small Indiana town that could easily double for a Spielberg setting. The preteen boys Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin) try to carry on with their lives even though in the past season they had incredible, out-of-this dimensional experiences. Many of the characters like Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), the psionic girl raised in an evil government agency, Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder), Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer), Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) and Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) return and they all have separate story arcs as the start of Stranger Things 2 deals with the aftermath of the previous season.

In a nod to Gremlins, Dustin discovers a creature that he keeps as a pet, which turns out to be related to the otherworldly demogorgon creature they faced. Meanwhile, Mike is preening for Eleven, who is supposedly dead, but in reality, the psionic girl who is kept hidden from the outside world by Hawkins’ sheriff Jim Hopper (David Harbour). But Eleven is starting to rebel since she wants to reunite with Mike and learn about her past. This desire brings about unexpected developments for both El and Jim.¬† As for Lucas, he falls for a new girl that the boys meet, Max Mayfield (Cadie Sink), and her arrival brings some friction to the gang. However the core of Stranger Things 2 lies with Will, who is suffering from being abducted by the demogorgon last season. Not just by being teased by bullies in school but by having nightmarish visions of a giant monster threatening our dimension that soon becomes real.This is odd to say for a TV series in its second season, but Stranger Things 2 feels more like a movie sequel. That is probably because of the second season’s structure. It starts off as a slow burn by taking its time to reintroduce characters and bringing in new faces and situations. The first few episodes are more of a mystery and we are not sure what is the main threat. However, by the fourth episode, Stranger Things 2’s tone shifts into full-on horror mode as genuine jump scares fill many scenes and the thrill factor is amped up as our dimension is threatened once more.Like the first season, Stranger Things 2 effectively captures the mood of those beloved ’80s genre films featuring believable kids that anyone can relate to. The homages this time subtly shifts to mid-80s classics like Ghostbusters (the boys even dress up like them for Halloween),¬†Gremlins, The Goonies and even the nightmarish aspects of A Nightmare on Elm Street. The boys and the other characters are for the most part three dimensional with their own quirks and faults. Even the government agents in the series (this time represented by Paul Reiser) are not cut from the usual bad guy stock. The characters have their own separate journeys and you can see how they are changed from what they experience.Although the second season is as good as the first, it must be pointed out that some of the characters don’t get as much attention as others. This should not deter anyone from watching the second season because it has so much to offer. Also, as mentioned before, the second season starts off at a slower pace. It lacks the immediate hook that the first few episodes had in the previous season. This may turn off some viewers expecting the same thing, but be patient, because Stranger Things 2 delivers the thrills and scares in a topnotch production.

 

Lewis T. Grove

Stranger Things: A Tribute To Classic ’80s Sci-Fi and Horror

Stranger Things Poster

Summer TV series, especially genre ones, have been hit or miss in terms of quality. Sadly, many often fall into the miss category (see Under the Dome and Zoo as examples). But Stranger Things streaming this summer on Netflix is definitely one of the best TV series to come out in a summer season.

Will and Mike Stranger ThingsTaking place¬†in a small Indiana town during the ’80s, Stranger Things is an homage to all the memorable sci-fi and horror tales from that period. Many critics are comparing it to early Steven Spielberg films but that isn’t a fitting description. This series is darker, less whimsical and a better comparison would be to an early Stephen King novel that has had a superior live-action adaptation. Then it throw in elements of the lower-grade genre efforts from that time but executed better and a soundtrack that would fit in nicely with a John Carpenter film. It may sound like a mish-mash but it works. The reason why is that despite its ’80s trappings and callbacks to films and stories from the era, Stranger Things has a timeless and unique feel.

The eight-episode series begins when a boy, Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), disappears after a night out with his buddies. A mystery develops as¬†other characters try to find out what happened to Will. But we, and his mother Joyce (Winona Ryder), learn that he is actually trapped in¬†a¬†dark,¬†parallel dimension and stalked by a flesh-eating monster without a face. As this happens, his friends Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) meet a strange and quiet girl known only as Eleven (Millie Bobbie Brown), or El for short. It turns out she is an escapee from a nearby government facility run by Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine) that has been¬†developing her telekinetic and telepathic powers to enter the same dimension Will is trapped in.¬†These experiments opened up a gateway between the two dimensions and the monster that threatens Will is now also preying on our side. Naturally, Dr. Brenner and his associates don’t have her best interest at heart and are pursuing her as she hides out with the boys.

Stranger-Things-Lucas-Dustin-Mike-Eleven

 

One of the reasons why Stranger Things works so well has to do with the characters and how they are portrayed. This is critical in the case of the children. Their performances seem genuine and their dialogue is authentic. By listening to them, it doesn’t feel like some adult wrote their words. If any of the young performances were sub-par, the series would’ve tanked. But thankfully, these young actors were well chosen especially Brown and Wolfhard. El says little but is very expressive and tortured while experiencing life outside the facility. All the while, El displays an appropriate childlike response to the outside world.

Joyce Byers and Company in Stranger Things

Other standout performances include Ryder as¬†Will’s distraught and determined mother¬†and David Harbour as Chief Hopper, a broken disgruntled sheriff who finds a path to redemption as he gets drawn into the mystery of Will’s disappearance. Other young performances that deserve shoutouts are Natalie Dyer as Nancy Wheeler and Charlie Heaton as Will’s older brother Jonathan. Aside from the stock evil government types, the characters are not one-dimensional. They have flaws and quirks but rise to the occasion when the time comes.

And there is plenty of meat for genre fans in this story. El confronts monster Stranger ThingsOwing thanks to classic sci-fi films from that time like The Thing, Alien and The Fly, Stranger Things delivers actual jump scares and gross out moments and the monster is disgustingly original and disturbing. The people behind the show (The Duffer Brothers) wisely kept its appearance vague until the final episodes and its full revelation won’t disappoint horror and sci-fi fans. Finally, Stranger Things has many Easter eggs and tributes to classics from that time that would delight fans of Star Wars, The Thing and more, but it doesn’t go overboard. With that said, the series isn’t perfect. Although its characters and dialogue are fresh and above average, the same can’t be said for some of its plotting. At times there are contrivances and certain developments are too familiar. Still, the series on the whole is enjoyable and hits its goals.

At eight episodes, the series took the right amount of time to tell its story while dropping hints of further developments. At the same time, not every question is answered so hopefully a second season will be commissioned because the warmly familiar and disturbing worlds of Stranger Things are worth revisiting.

Lewis T. Grove