We decided a few years back to go along with the trend and do an annual “Best of” list. This year went by quickly and now we finally hit the 2020s to start a new decade. There was a time when 2020 seemed so far in the future, but here we are: jet packs, flying cars and robot maids, right? We are confident the new roaring 20s will bring us a ton of cool pop culture, but let’s take a quick rewind of some of the best and worst of 2019.

DJ

2019 had more great TV (mostly on streaming services) than ever before. I will admit up front I did not go to the movies much this year, outside of superhero and Star Wars films. I did watch some of the new releases on Prime and Netflix: The Irishman (Very good) and The Report (just OK) for instance. I watched a ton of documentaries that fit perfectly on these platforms. Network TV continues to disappoint. I will say Baby Yoda may be my favorite thing all year. Here is my best of and a couple of worsts for 2019.

Music

I am certainly not that hip to the music of today, I want to be but sounding like my father, “It all sounds the same to me” so I have to dig deep to find stuff I like. Most of the time I find stuff by accident. Where is rock music? Can “new wave” not survive today? What about grunge? Luckily there was some stuff I like.

Jonas Brothers – Happiness Begins

I heard a ton of Jonas when my kids were young and it was just ok generic music, happy music. So when Nick Jonas came out with “Jealous” a few years ago and Joe did “Cake by the Ocean” call me impressed with their growth. Their comeback album was also surprisingly very strong and had two solid hits “Sucker” and “Cool”. “Cool” is my favorite, a fun song and even a Game of Thrones reference thrown in (Joe’s married to Sophie Turner from GOT). “I Believe” is another standout. It’s a poppy, funky album and one of my favorites of 2019. If this is an indication of what they can do as a grown-up band, they should be a force for years.

King Princess

I had no idea who King Princess was until I saw her on Saturday Night Live this year and it blew me away, so very different than all the music I hear on the radio that mostly blends together. She performed “Hit the Back” which was amazing. She is a young Indie artist who doesn’t really care what people think which makes her music inventive. I listened to her debut album Cheap Queen and it’s littered with music that has bits of funk, dance, and jazz. Songs “Ain’t Together” and “Cheap Queen” are standouts. She is very talented and I am looking forward to her future work.

Bastille – Joy

Not sure why I don’t listen to more from Bastille, I loved their first hit “Pompeii” and “Happier” with that Marshmello guy was pretty good. Their single from 2019, “Joy” is another great song. Describing someone who is ready to give up and is being picked up by someone, an uplifting fun song. Fits perfectly with Panic to the Disco!’s “High Hopes”.

MG:  I’m glad you discovered Bastille. Oddly, you didn’t comment at all about them when I included them in my “Best of” for 2018. “Sucker” is a fun song, but it sounds like I should check out their album – just never thought of it. 

Documentaries on Netflix

The Devil Next Door/The Confession Killer

The Devil Next Door is a 5 part documentary about a Cleveland grandfather that was accused of being “Ivan the Terrible”, a Nazi extermination camp guard who was a sadistic and brutal killer. It’s an amazing film. Since the war, John Demjanjuk was living in Cleveland raising a family, and in the 1980’s he was extradited to Israel for trial. The series examines whether he was or was not Ivan. It’s riveting material.

The Confession Killer is also a 5 part documentary. It chronicles the confessions of serial killer Henry Lee Lucas who confessed to hundreds of killings. This is a fascinating story of a man who may not even be a serial killer. Lucas did kill his mother, which we know for sure. The rest is a mystery. It also shines a light on the Texas police force which has always been labeled as one of the most corrupt.

MG: I backed off on the dark documentaries this year – not sure why. Perhaps I needed more escapist stuff in light of the state of what’s happening in the western world. I plan to check out The Devil Next Door. Nazi’s escaping to South America or even America was one of those almost legendary storylines when we were young. You never knew if one might be living next door.

TV

Mr. Robot

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The final season of Mr. Robot was easily the best thing I saw on TV this year. Sam Esmail had an incredible vision and his writing and directing were top notch. Did I like the series finale, overall yeah I think so, there have been far worse ones. There was no cop-out, he ended it. The cinematography of this show far outweighs some of the films out there. Esmail knows how to frame characters in a shot and it makes for compelling TV. He tried different genres this year that worked. He had an episode with no dialogue, one that was set in one place that felt like a play, ones that felt like Hitchcock. The cast was great. Rami Malek and B.D. Wong should get an Emmy just for their conversation in the penultimate episode. It was amazing work, they were both so great all year. Carly Chaikin as Elliott’s sister also did some great work. This has always been a strong show but the number of themes explored this year and Esmail going all out, easily made this my favorite season. Not many shows can say they were this good at the end.

MG: Definitely an amazing show, and to go out so strong in its fourth season was a feat. It’s so frustrating to see good, visionary shows lose their way or just collapse (GoT, Walking Dead), but this one bucked the trend. I hope Esmail can bring his skills to other projects in the future because I love his approach to visionary storytelling.

Worst

Triple Frontier/In the Shadow of the Moon

Netflix has some great stuff but they push so much stuff out that they have a lot of garbage lurking out there and it’s hard to tell what may be good. I took a chance on two movies this year and I didn’t like them. Triple Frontier had a great cast, Poe Dameron, The Mandalorian, and the most recent Batman. It was more boring than it should have been. A heist film that gets complicated, it’s uneven despite a great cast.

The even worse film was In the Shadow of the Moon. Maybe it’s my fault but I thought this was more of a thriller but it turned out to be a poorly made sci-fi film. I keep thinking Boyd Holbrook is going to get better as an actor but I am wrong, he doesn’t. The script is nonsense which eventually leads to a “spoiler alert” time travel plot. I rarely like time travel as a plot device and this film is no different. I should have turned it off.

MG: Triple Frontier should have been much better. The story just died halfway through and stranded the cast with nothing to do. Yeah, I don’t see Boyd Holbrook making the transition to good actor. I loved Narcos, but he was the one weak spot in it. 

Mike G.

Here’s how I started my segment of last year’s “Best Of”: I have to admit that I was probably not as tuned-in to pop-culture in 2018 as I have in the past. I was determined to turn that around 2019, but I think I’m ending the year even worse off than last year. When it comes to music I’ve fallen off the cliff completely. Part of that is my kids moving away from top 40 stuff, and also getting Sirius radio in my car allowed me to wallow in all things 80’s and 90’s, which was not good for keeping up with current music. I didn’t do much better with movies either, outside of superhero stuff. My main entertainment was streaming TV and some good books. So I’ll just skip music this year and go to what I know.

Movies

Avengers: Endgame

Among my items for worst of 2018 was MCU films, so even I am surprised to be calling this film among the best of the year. Let me be clear, it should not be up for any Oscars, but I did think this film was a fitting homage to the great character/actor pairings that are the strength of what Marvel has put on film in the past decade or so. I enjoyed seeing this film dip into some of the past films with its time travel conceit, and there were even some genuine lump-in-your-throat moments. It seemed less about big CGI battles and more about these characters we’ve grown to love.

On The Basis Of Sex

I’ve liked Felicity Jones in everything I’ve seen her in thus far, and I’m not sure why she wasn’t nominated for any awards for her role in this film – I know I already mentioned this in my full write-up of the film in our Women Directors post from earlier this year. Check out that post for my full review.

The Irishman

I wasn’t sure I was going to like this film, which is weird because I like the main actors and typically love Martin Scorsese. Although it was kind of a revisit to well-trod mob territory, it was a fresh take, and this was the first time in a long while that I felt Pacino, and to a lesser extent DeNiro, wasn’t just trading on his screen persona of old. It was cinematic gold seeing DeNiro and Pacino really interact in scenes together and in a good film. Joe Pesci was refreshingly toned down and nuanced – abandoning the high-strung antics of early roles like in My Cousin Vinny and even Casino. I wish the focus stayed on the Hoffa/union/mob story, and I think it could have made for an excellent 7-8 part series, but Scorsese proved there are still good reasons to see movies (although I have to confess I watched it on Netflix – sorry!).

DJ: I thought The Irishman was pretty good, a little too much fat on it but overall worthwhile. Pesci was amazing, nice to see him doing some real acting. As much as I hated the previous Avengers film, End Game, although with flaws, was pretty good.

Streaming Television Shows

As I mentioned, this was where I spent most of my entertainment time this year. Perhaps I will just bullet-point some shows I enjoyed:

  •  Stranger Things (Season 3): I wrote about this show way back in our first blog post: 1980’s Nostalgia Redux. This season was just as good as the last two, and my kids love it so much I even watched it twice. Showrunners The Duffer Brothers created a true pop-culture phenomenon (psst – Disney, they should be given a crack at Star Wars).
  • Chernobyl: This mini-series, which played like a documentary at times, really stuck with me. It was truly a riveting take on an event most of us of a certain age remember but actually knew little about.
  • The Boys: If you have Marvel/DC superhero burnout, meet the cure. Profane, raunchy and violent, it’s a funny take on what superheroes would really be like.
  •  Watchmen: Another great HBO series this year (I feel like HBO is stepping up their game – minus the GoT ending). I loved that I had no idea where the story was going, but it never got TOO weird that I started to question it. Regina King was fierce as the lead character, and the rest of the cast was solid all around.
  •  Fleabag: I feel like this show might be getting overpraised, but I got some good laughs and you have to hand it to Phoebe Waller-Bridge as both writer and lead.
  • The Mandalorian: I wish it stayed a little more focused on the central storyline of the Imperials being after “baby Yoda”, but overall this series is a step in the right direction for Disney with Star Wars.

DJ: I really enjoyed The Mandalorian, uneven at times but still felt more like Star Wars than any of the current trilogy. I enjoyed Chernobyl too although grim. Watchmen was pretty cool too, it educated me on the Tulsa Riot and the acting was top notch. Don Johnson was great and Jean Smart puts in another supporting actress performance that should get an Emmy nomination. I tried Fleabag, I really did, but it didn’t work for me. Waller-Bridges is likable and I like British style comedies but not sure, maybe I need to try it again.

The Worst

Because I was selective on what I watched, I didn’t see much that was truly awful, but here are a couple of disappointments:

Once Upon A Time in Hollywood: I’m a Quentin Tarantino fan, so I was looking forward to seeing his “love letter to 60’s Hollywood” as it was being called. Maybe I just didn’t get it, but to me it was two plotless hours, with 40 minutes of tacked-on revisionist history of the Manson-inspired murders, featuring brief ultra-violence, disturbing even by Tarantino standards. Critics trip over each other to praise any film that romanticizes Hollywood/LA (see La La Land), but despite some interesting sequences, I did not enjoy this and thought it was the rare Tarantin misstep.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald:  Yes – it came out at the end of 2018, but I wasn’t spending theater money to see this after the disaster of the first film. Alas, I was mad even to have spent the $4 of VOD money on this. The buzz was that this movie would be a return to the look and feel of the original Potter stories. I was also hopeful with Jude Law playing a young Dumbledore, it might turn out ok. I honestly couldn’t even finish this movie. Like the first one, the storyline was a tangled mess of nothingness, and Johnny Depp was cringe-worthy. We can complain about what Disney has done to the Star Wars franchise, but the Fantastic Beasts series is trampling on the Potter legacy in a worse way. Fortunately, I was able to get back to Universal in Florida this past spring and got some of that Harry Potter Wizarding world magic back.

DJ: I do want to see Hollywood and hope it’s better than that, but I’ll wait until it’s free. The Fantastic Beasts series I was done after the first one, I hated that film and luckily no one has made me watch the second one.