2019 Provided Plenty of Escape
Genre films played an important role in keeping 2019 bearable. The escapism of horror, comedy, action, and sci-fi probably, no joke, saved lives this year. Filmmakers gifted us such a strong crop of films to keep us occupied while everything disintegrates into a hellscape around us. We should all be thankful for that as we head into what will surely be the end of the world in 2020.
In horror, we saw a definite shift towards the political, as well as the psychoanalysis of trauma. We’ll certainly remember this year by the triumphant sophomore efforts of writer/directors Jordan Peele and Ari Aster. It also bears mentioning that despite the varying quality of the films themselves, this was the year of the Stephen King adaptation, with It: Chapter 2, Pet Sematary, Doctor Sleep, and In the Tall Grass all hitting.
Sci-fi veered towards the lo-fi and cerebral with films like High Life and Synchronic, while action went full-tilt ultra-violence with John Wick: Chapter 3–Parabellum. Comedy addressed the elephant in the room by going a bit political as well with standouts Booksmart and Longshot. The former brought the feminist laughs while the latter made politics its setting.
This year in genre film acknowledged that we have some major issues to work out in the real world, an up-and-coming class of filmmakers should make us feel optimistic about the future of genre cinema. Here’s the best of the year:
Bong Joon-Ho delivered an instant classic, effortlessly bouncing from satire to suspense, with timely, biting social commentary on class struggle. All of it is on an elite level, while never sacrificing entertainment value. It’s the quintessential Korean genre masterpiece that we all knew Bong had in him. Let’s keep pushing the envelope of hype on this one to see when we start to get career contrarians saying this isn’t a good film.
One Cut of the Dead
Zombie flicks may be a bit on the way out right now, and the zombie comedy is especially wearing out its welcome, but this scrappy low-fi entry from Japan will win over even the most zombie-fatigued person. It’s a love letter to guerrilla filmmaking with technical mastery and heart. I promise your biggest smile of the moviegoing year will come from this film. Just hang in past the first 30 minutes. Pom!
What’s scarier than ourselves in 2019? Jordan Peele avoided a sophomore slump with a visceral, alarming take on doppelgängers, slathered in sociopolitical subtext. The year isn’t even over, and this film already belongs among the pantheon of essential horror on the strength of Lupita Nyong’o’s performance alone.
High school comedies were in a quality drought, some 12 years removed from Superbad, which itself feels dated now. Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut ended the dry season with a firehose of laughs that is all at once hilarious, sweet, and fiercely feminine, turning the testosterone-dominated genre on its head. It’s a once-in-a-generation film.
Someone please make sure Ari Aster never visits a therapist so we can keep getting films like this. The brightly colored follow up to the outstanding Hereditary subverts the folk horror genre and delivers the ultimate codependency fairytale. Set amid the backdrop of a doomed backpacking trip to a small community in Sweden during the summer solstice, the scares are light, but this film delivers big mood for anyone who’s ever been trapped in a bad relationship. Seek out the director’s cut for even more context around the main couple’s rocky dynamic and some extra rituals by the locals.
Few horror films actually feel like nightmares, but Gaspar Noé transmits one directly into our eyeballs with this disturbing dance party fever dream set in 1990s France. From the pulsing soundtrack to the pointed references of iconic scenes from cult horror films like Possession, there’s no escape for your psyche.
A murderous artery-red dress, yes, a dress, terrorizes a lonely single woman in her 50s as she reenters the dating scene. The premise is probably the least bonkers thing about Peter Strickland’s giallo-influenced feature follow up to The Duke of Burgundy. Along the way you’ll learn everything there is to know about 70s era washing machines and department store mannequin pubic hair. Say yes to the dress.
Nazis are everywhere. They’re in the supermarket and on podcasts pretending to be silly videogame Youtubers for your kids. They’re IN YOUR FACE! Taika Waititi adapted Christine Leunens’ Caging Skies to remind us, as if we needed a reminder, that Nazis are among us, and it’s up to us all to find our moral compass. It’s not always perfect, but the audacity of this film goes a long way towards earning forgiveness when it struggles to walk the line between irreverent comedy and cautionary tale.
It’s in the title. This one is straight up trash cinema perfection for the sadistic eroticists out there. It’s like a streamlined Handmaiden with an added element of gross-out horror. The less you know about it going in, the better.
John Wick: Chapter 3–Parabellum
He kills someone with a book. He kills someone WITH A BOOK. There are dogs chewing up bad guys this time! The John Wick franchise just seems to keep improving upon itself. It’s in on its own joke. It challenges itself to be creative in its action set pieces. Most importantly, it continues to build an interesting world for our hero to play in for years to come.
Dolemite is My Name
The Art of Self-Defense