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The Decade Decathlon: 2019

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Welcome back to the Decade Decathlon, where we’re taking an extended look back at the past decade of filmmaking to see what worked, what didn’t, and what stories we can learn from the past.

So… this took a while to come out.

When we last left off on our look back at the last decade of film, the decade had just concluded and we were slowly starting to gauge how much of an impact 2019 had on the cinematic landscape. Originally, this post was supposed to come out two months ago, but then what I can only describe as a series of unfortunate events occurred that prevented me from doing so. Nearly all of these events were completely out of my control, while some of them I take full responsibility for.

So let’s backtrack a bit. The 2019 edition of the Decade Decathlon was supposed to come out on February 15th and everything was going to be perfect. All of the major award shows ended, the bombs would have been finalized, and we were all set to go. Except, one award could not be completed; Worst Picture. Normally, The Razzies air their awards ceremony the day before the Academy Awards, but inexplicably they decide to break from the pack and do things their own way. Their awards were going to be announced at the end of February with the winners being announced on March 15th. I mean, we all knew what was going to win Worst Picture, but still, based on my own criteria, my hands were tied. I had to wait until the Razzies happened.

And then the coronavirus came and screwed all of that up.

With the coronavirus hitting the United States the week before the Razzies were set to hold their awards, they decided to cancel their ceremony and reschedule it until a later date. With that in mind, I waited patiently for them to reschedule them, but due to my job outside of here becoming a tad more complex, that fell at the wayside. It wasn’t until last week that I found out that the Razzies had their ceremony online and just decided not to tell anyone. So with that all out of the way, here we are, now nearly at the end of the Decade Decathlon.

To be honest, I’m kind of glad that there was a bit of distance between when this post was supposed to come out and when it did come out. Trying to wrap up a year of film right in the midst of awards season would have blinded my judgment and have me focus on the big stories of the day. You would have seen me rage at how Parasite, despite its universal acclaim and historic award wins, still lost this category to 1917. Now I’m a bit calmer and can more rationally try and dissect what were the central causes behind many of the big stories of 2019. Consider this less of an examination, and more of an autopsy on the year that we all wish we could return to.

Now let’s get ready to go.

 

Most Decorated: 1917
Director: Sam Mendes
Total Awards Won: 12
Oscar’s Best Picture Winner?: No

War epics are nothing new in the world of prestige cinema. The Deer Hunter, Saving Private Ryan, Patton, and Hacksaw Ridge are all movies that pride themselves on their realism and adherence to the brutality of war. War is hell, but it sure makes a compelling movie. While we haven’t seen too many major war movies in the past decade that had universal acclaim –the only major ones that spring to mind are Hacksaw Ridge and Dunkirk — there’s was something different about 1917. Specifically, director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins decided to go completely mad and create a war movie with the illusion of it being done in one single take.

If it was shot in any other way, 1917 probably would have honestly been pretty unspectacular. The plot is very personal, but nothing that we haven’t seen a million times before. Everything is framed as realistically as possible, but again, that’s not unique. The single shot approach though elevates nearly everything in the movie. From a pure technical standpoint, it’s a masterwork by Mendes, accomplishing something that is almost impossible. He does have to result to one cheap cut that almost invalidated the entire premise, but the rest of the technique is stellar. As much as I loved watched the movie, a part of me was almost just as curious to spot where Mendes made his cuts.

But for as much critical praise as 1917 accrued, including receiving our Golden Cage for Best Picture, it’s victory in this category is entirely thanks to the BAFTAs. While it did moderately well in the other major award categories, the BAFTAs gave 1917 seven of its 12 major award wins. Sometimes that’s the way the dice fall, but a part of me has to wonder if its place is here just because that some of the opponents in its BAFTA categories, like Best British Film, were noticeably weak. Or maybe 1917 was just that strong.

Honestly, despite it being the frontrunner for most of the 2020 award season, special mention has to be made about its top competitor, Parasite. Parasite is probably the better film if I had to compare the two, and the story of a South Korean movie winning Best Picture at the Oscars, the first foreign film to every do so, is far more noteworthy than 1917’s dominance at the BAFTAs. History will remember which movie should have gotten the nod, but don’t think for a second that 1917 is “just another war movie.” It elevates the genre to a new level thanks to Deakin’s and Mendes’ skills, and one that will probably set a high bar for years to come.

Worst Picture: Cats
Director: Tom Hooper
Total Awards Won: 6
Were the Razzies Right?: I think?

Behold, the internet punching bag that is Cats. Sure, other Worst Picture winners have been derided for their poor quality, but even when compared to other failures like The Last Airbender or Fant4stic, there’s something different about Cats. It has an air to it, an insanity if you will, where no one stopped to think that what they were doing was a bad idea. No one had the forethought to say that this wasn’t going to work in its current form.

While we can talk for ages about how the musical would have had a rough transition to film regardless of who took the helm of the project, selecting Tom Hooper was probably one of the worst decisions made for the film. We now know that Hooper has little knowledge of how animation and movie musicals work and made such unrealistic demands that it’s a miracle that the movie was even completed in time for its release. In fact, you could even argue that the movie wasn’t even finished for the premiere, with Hooper editing until the very last second and sending out updated, finalized cuts of the movie AFTER it was released to theaters. Nearly all of the actors distanced themselves from the movie immediately after it released, leaving Cats to flop hard and be ridiculed by audiences for months.

So what went wrong with Cats? Frankly, it’s a musical that never should have been adapted in the first place. The very idea behind Cats is one that can only work as a stage show. As someone who once saw Cats, while I will fully admit that I did not enjoy it, it’s a musical that feels less like it’s trying to tell a coherent story and more so a vehicle for Andrew Lloyd Weber’s score. Many of the songs in Cats are perfectly fine, and there’s nothing wrong with creating an entire show just because you have a great soundtrack. One recent example would be the outstanding musical Six, which is just watching 90 minutes of what is essentially a rock concert about the six wives of Henry VIII. We’re not there for the story, we’re there for the music.

Hooper didn’t understand that basic fact and instead put the focus on the story rather than the music. He learned… some lessons from his travesty of Les Miserables in terms of cinematography (SOME being the most operative word), but Hooper tried to turn Cats into something it isn’t. After giving Cats a rewatch for this thanks to its recent digital release, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I actually would prefer to watch Cats over Les Miserables. Both are terrible, terrible movies, made by an incompetent director who had no idea what he was doing, but there’s just enough mania in Cats to deride some enjoyment out of it while Les Miserables is just a slog on every conceivable level. You can’t not at least crack a smirk at a movie where one of the biggest stories following its release was if there was a cut of the film where we saw all of the cat’s buttholes.

Highest Grossing: Avengers: Endgame
Director: Joe/Anthony Russo

Total Gross: $2,797,800,564

You had to have been there.

I think more than any other movie this decade, in order to understand Avengers: Endgame, you had to have been there the day the movie came out. Tickets were sold out for weeks, movie theaters apps crashed, and I had to buy my tickets at a crappy local theater just to make sure I could secure enough tickets for my college friends to see the very first screening. As we entered the theater, we claimed our seats and the theater eventually became so filled that people were sitting in the aisles and people were crowding around the door, turning it into a standing room only event. Did it violate safety protocols? You better believe it. Did it matter? Not to anyone in the theater.

I’ve made no secret to the fact that I don’t like Disney. My thoughts on them have become more and more negative over the past year as they completely enveloped any and all pop culture discussion. Whenever a Disney movie released, regardless of its quality, you better believe it made over $1 billion at the box office. It didn’t even matter if the movie was good, Disney had seven movies in 2019 that grossed over $1 billion, with Avengers: Endgame being their crowning jewel. As of this writing, and probably for years if not decades to come, Avengers: Endgame is the highest grossing movie of all time, unadjusted for inflation.

Serving as the climax of ten years of Marvel movies, Endgame delivered everything a fan could ask for. Beloved characters returned, villains were fought, quips were made, and it truly felt like an event. Event comics and crossover events are incredibly hard to pull off in the comic book medium, but Endgame somehow was able to legitimize it and make something that could have been incomprehensible somewhat easy to follow. It rewarded longtime fans, though some elements could have remained forgotten to history. Did we really need to be reminded that Thor: The Dark World existed?

It almost doesn’t matter whether or not you even liked the movie. I know many fans who were swooned by it immediately after seeing it with dozens of audience erupting moments, but given time to reflect on it, I can’t ignore that Endgame is really, really flawed. There was no reason for this movie to be three hours long, there are plot holes the size of Thanos’ butthole, Captain Marvel serves as a literal deus ex machina, several moments feel incredibly forced for no reason other than to be “iconic,” and the less said about time travel the better. But again, that doesn’t really matter. For one moment, Marvel and cinema fans around the world were able to see the conclusion to an epic a decade in the making.

Now one year after its release, the MCU feels decompressed. We’re going to be getting several Disney+ shows and the coronavirus pushed off the first Phase 4 film to November, so with well over a year after Endgame, will the MCU continue to draw people in? The story is over, so what comes next? Will whatever come next even be worth seeing? Can Disney keep the momentum? Who can say? Even if the MCU crashes and burns, I will always remember my time in the theater watching Endgame.

Biggest Bomb: Dark Phoenix
Director: Simon Kinberg

Budget: $200,000,000
Gross: $252,000,000

Dark Phoenix was always going to be a disaster, though the impact of it is… unique to say the least. Alleged pedophile Bryan Singer didn’t direct this movie, the honor instead went to Simon Kinberg, a first time director who has been attached to the X-Men franchise since The Last Stand (aka the worst one). Kinberg wanted to use this opportunity as a chance to do The Last Stand right, serving as a producer and writer for that film, taking whole plot points and character moments from that movie, and somehow doing them worse.

This was meant to be a send-off to the X-Men franchise under Fox, who had been pumping out several movies over two decades. Some of the movies were fantastic and truly stand on their own, and then others are Dark Phoenix. It’s weird trying to describe why Dark Phoenix doesn’t work since in all fairness, it could have worked. The original story is one of the most beloved X-Men stories of all time and having the same creative team take a second shot at the story should have given them the chance to fix all of the problems from the original. It should have worked. So what went wrong?

Besides the massively impending Disney/Fox merger, what really sank the film were two factors. First, the movie was in post production for an uncomfortable amount of time with nearly every story surrounding it in 2018 being nothing but bad news. Constant delays pushing the movie back further and further were bad enough but announcing that major reshoots were going to take place was the final nail in the coffin for most. Reshoots are not too uncommon since they happen all of the time in film production, but not when it’s reported and then eventually confirmed that a large amount of the third act was going to be rewritten for the reshoots. Couple that in with no one really caring about the franchise anymore, including the actors, and it was easy to see why the movie bombed.

The movie underperformed everywhere and while at that point in time the Disney/Fox merger had already occurred, the buyout wasn’t off the a great start when Dark Phoenix was the first major offering from the pair. The movie flopped so hard that Disney went and cancelled several projects that were already in development at Fox because of the failure. You know your movie is a bomb when it hurts Disney. I would say that it’s a shame that the X-Men franchise went out on such a pathetic note, but let’s be real for a minute; has anyone ever cared about an X-Men movie without Hugh Jackman?

Most Underrated: Uncut Gems
Director: Josh/Benny Safdie
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%

Uncut Gems is an anxiety attack of a movie in all of the best ways. From start to finish, audiences are forced to follow Adam Sandler as he sabotages his own life through a crippling gambling addiction, lying, and infidelity. It is wonderfully excruciating watching him try to rebuild his life while simultaneously flush it all down the drain at the first chance he gets. While it wasn’t my favorite movie of last year, it was the best movie that no one saw.

I’m not all too familiar with the work of the Safdie brothers, but from what I can gather they’ve been highly praised on the film festival circuit for years with movies like Daddy Longlegs and Good Time. Uncut Gems being their first mainstream hit. Make no mistake, despite the relative obscurity, Uncut Gems was considered a modest hit, raking in $50 million on a $16 million budget. That’s a pretty respectable number, but once you add on the awards season praise, then you start to get something special.

While the the Safdies received plenty of recognition for their work with Uncut Gems, it was Adam Sandler who truly stood out. For the past decade, he’s been content making terrible, low brow comedies that play to the lowest common denominators. I could list them for you, but that would just be too depressing, so just assume they’re all variations of Jack & Jill but less painful. Even with Sandler taking the easy route out for years, it’s clear from the very first scene that the Adam Sandler we’re watching in Uncut Gems is one that I want to see more of. He plays his character as pitiable, yet frustrating. He’s a man who knows he’s a piece of shit and tries to fix it, but is always looking for his next big win, even if it costs him everything. Add in breakout performances from Kevin Garnett (yes that one) and Julia Fox, who needs to be in more movies, and you have a movie that did nothing but surprise me.

I didn’t expect one of the surprise hits of the year to be an Adam Sandler drama about magical gems, but the world is a very strange place. While the movie did wonderfully critically, it struggled to find an audience thanks to it releasing right in the middle of awards season with other hits like Little Women, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, and 1917. It was buried in an already jam packed awards season, which is a shame because the movie deserves to have an audience. I can’t recall watching any movie that made me tense up for the entire runtime as Uncut Gems did.

Favorite Movie: The Lighthouse
Director: Robert Eggers
Why?: Confinement

During these strange and unsettling times, I’m sure that many of us can relate to The Lighthouse. I’ve gone on about this movie quite a bit in the past few months, but it’s entirely relatable in the age of corona. The premise is simple: two men are stuck in a lighthouse. At first it’s because its their job, but when a storm hits the island, the two are forced to work with each other in order to survive. They don’t particularly like each other, hell they hardly even know each other, and we’re just left to follow the two of them as Robert Pattinson’s Winslow slowly loses his mind. I mean, I would lose my mind if I was stuck with a farting Willem Dafoe doing an Ahab impression.

Before the outbreak occurred, I loved this movie from top to bottom. It’s a claustrophobic film shot in a 1.19:1 aspect ration giving it an odd feeling throughout. Nothing about it feels natural and it comes across like we’re looking at a lost piece of history, swept away under the currents of whatever island the two men are stuck on. It’s also a movie where Willem Dafoe gets visibly upset that Robert Pattinson doesn’t like his cooking so it has that going for it.

The Lighthouse strikes an odd balance of uncomfortable humor while also building up tension towards… something. You know that Robert Pattinson is going to snap eventually, but what’s going to cause it? Is it his own delusions? Dafoe’s unfavorable working conditions? The storm that hits the island? The mystical nature of the lighthouse? You never know exactly what’s going to happen until it does, and even then the transitions in tone are jarring in a good way. We watch the two men fight, only to smash cut to them dancing like manic idiots, then smash cutting to them slow dancing and nearly making out. It all makes sense in a way that I’m sure many of us can relate to.

We’re confined in one place unable to leave. We’re stuck seeing the same people again and again. There’s no escape from them and we just have to live with it. Sure, some of us are in comfortable situations where we don’t have to worry too much about our living conditions, but if you’re in a bad situation then the events of The Lighthouse may feel uncomfortably familiar. This is a horror movie for the quarantined. This is what happens when you’re stuck living with Willem Dafoe. May Poseidon have mercy on your souls.

Was 2019 a good year for movies?

Like 2012, 2019 was a year of grandness. Everything had to be BIG, whether it was from epic conclusions to beloved franchises, major directors releasing ambitious projects, or box office records shattering on a weekly basis. There definitely were plenty of good movies all around, and compared to the barren wasteland that is 2020 we have no shortage of good movies to catch up on. This was the first time in a long time it felt like movies were at the center of the pop culture zeitgeist. There was always an event happening every month that people just had to see, or an underground movie that everyone was talking about. This was the first time in a while where it was fun to talk about films again, and not just in dedicated film circles. Everyone was seeing everything and discussing movies with them was a complete joy.

I couldn’t think of a better way for the decade to end. Everyone got a little bit of something and history was made again and again and again. But now that we’ve finally reached the end of the road for the Decade Decathlon, there’s one last stop to make before we cross the finish line. We broke down each year into their base components, analyzed which were the most significant movies of each year, and now it’s time to render judgment. Next time, we’re going to look at the five biggest winners of the 2010’s and the five biggest losers of the 2010’s. What movies/people/companies/groups truly defined the decade, for better or worse? Tune in next week to find out.

Movies from 2019 you should still see: Alita: Battle Angel, The Beach Bum, Shazam!, Missing Link, John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum, Always Be My Maybe, Rocketman, Yesterday, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Midsommar, The Farewell, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, Ready or Not, Joker, Jojo Rabbit, Marriage Story, Knives Out, Promare, Parasite

Previous Years Completed:

2010
2011
2012
2013
2014
2015
2016
2017
2018

Jesse Lab
The strange one. The one born and raised in New Jersey. The one who raves about anime. The one who will go to bat for DC Comics, animation, and every kind of dog. The one who is more than a tad bit odd. The Features Editor.