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My Top Ten Movies of 2019

Films about family, abortion, Legos, Saints, monsters, and more made my cut.

(Peter Lewicki @peterlewicki/Unsplash.com)

This was an odd year for film. Even though I saw more contemporary films than any other year (more than 30), I had a hard time compiling a list of ten films that deserved the title “Best of the Year.” There were plenty of good films, but a surprising small number of great ones. Here’s what made my cut:

1. Fighting with my Family: The best film of the year is, in some ways, a standard sports narrative where a young wrestler comes into her own. Yet it is incredibly entertaining, with a strong affirmation of traditional family values, even if the family must occasionally mediate disagreements through a head lock.

2. Unplanned: This film was understandably hard to get through, but the filmmakers handled an incredibly sad and difficult human rights issue with poise, tact, and grace.

3. The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part: This movie is  high adrenaline fun, with two of the best movie songs of the decade.

4. Love and Mercy: Faustina: Docudrama is one of the hardest cinema styles to get right, and this one succeeds wildly; it’s a perfect film for a high school theology class on Church history or the Saints.

5. Marriage Story: In case you didn’t know, divorce is Hell.

6. Overcomer: Yes, Alex Kendrick is cheesy, but he’s getting better, and Overcomer might be his best yet.

7. Hobbs and Shaw: The Fast and Furious franchise has matured in its sense of ethics while simultaneously becoming sillier in its action. This has both fun and great heart.

8. Godzilla: King of Monsters: Yes, this is mostly because of a personal love for the big G. So what? It’s my list and Godzilla is awesome.

9. Frozen II: The pantheistic elements are stronger in this sequel, but the writing and acting are still great, with plenty of Christian love to go around.

10. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: There’s one scene in this homage to Hollywood that goes way over the top, but most of it is a joyful celebration of an era long gone.

God bless and have a great year!


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About Nick Olszyk 137 Articles
Nick Olszyk teaches theology at Marist Catholic High School in Eugene, Oregon. He was raised on bad science fiction movies, jelly beans, and TV shows that make fun of bad science fiction movies. Visit him online at his website, Catholic Cinema Crusade.

4 Comments

  1. I cannot disagree with you more about “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”. The film uses the actual torture and murder of 6 people (including Sharon Tate’s unborn baby) to add a sense of foreboding and gravitas to an otherwise pointless film. Essentially, Tarantino uses the real pain and suffering of real people to fuel an imaginary revenge fantasy for our entertainment (and his bank account). That “one over the top scene” is where the entire film leads; it’s the culmination of the film. I can’t believe you would recommend such a perverse film in a Catholic publication. It doesn’t celebrate Hollywood. It celebrates violence and vengeance.

    • A different take on the film, by Catholic philosopher (and president of University of Dallas), Dr. Thomas Hibbs:

      In his recent revenge films, such as Django Unchained, in which the target is pre-Civil War slave-owners, and Inglorious Basterds, which takes aim at the Nazis, Tarantino has veered away from an amoral celebration of evil and violence. While still quite violent, these films demarcate good from evil characters and imagine a world in which the evildoers get what’s coming to them in spectacular ways.

      In Once Upon a Time in Hollywood there is indeed violence but it is more limited in scope and provides a kind of catharsis for those aware of what actually happened in early August in LA. Moreover, some of the best scenes in the film skillfully use the threat of violence to build tension and suspense. Finally, throughout the film Tarantino undermines any possibilities of glorifying the evildoers.

      Manson himself is nothing more than a side note making only one brief appearance. On the evening of the infamous Tate murders, the Manson devotees, who come across as deranged stoners, offer what the film treats as a lame justification for the attack. They will kill Hollywood stars whose films have taught them to kill. Tarantino exposes the hollow and cowardly nihilism that masquerades as moral purpose.

      Interestingly this justification is one that Manson himself often gave in interviews, taunting conventional society by saying that he was simply reflecting its own deepest values. A version of this response sometimes surfaces in Hollywood responses to criticism that its products are fostering a degenerate culture. Here at least Tarantino is having none of it.

      Tarantino instead reveals a degenerate culture for what it is. At the Spahn Ranch, the Manson clan lives in filth and neglect; the community is bound together by shrill tribalism, which the film tends to identify generally with the hippie lifestyle rather than specifically with Manson. Disturbing as it is, this sort of evil arises from ordinary human vices, not purportedly demonic characters beyond good and evil.

      Read his entire CWR review.

        • You’re welcome! Reviewing and analyzing Tarantino movies are challenging, both because of the violence involved and because his first movies were so apparently relativistic and nihilistic in nature. Back in 2004, I watched both “Kill Bill” movies, and was quite fascinated to discover that while Part 1 was indeed a gory exercise in nihilistic excess, the second film was something quite different:

          Much can be said, but what struck me about the second entry (“Vol. 2”) in Tarantino’s latest mythology was how openly pro-life it was. It’s an odd statement, I know, since the “Kill Bill” movies (like all of Tarantino’s movies) are extremely violent, even sadistic, containing some very shocking and graphic imagery. But the heart of the story—the very catalyst for the entire mythology—is The Bride’s (Uma Thurman) realization that she is pregnant. This realization leads to her almost immediate decision to radically change her life, flee from the world of hired killing, and seek to disappear into the “normal” world as a mother, wife, and music store clerk. Of course, life isn’t so easy; instead of peace and quiet she is nearly killed, while all of her friends and fiancé aren’t so fortunate, dying at the hands of her former boss/lover, the mysterious Bill.

          Anyhow, “Vol. 2” is especially forceful in showing that the (initially) unborn and (later) born child is, in fact, just that: a child. Not a fetus, not a potential abortion, not even an inconvenience. No, the baby is the reason to change and to hope that life is not fatalistic and ultimately cowed by death, but actually involves free will and moral choice.

          For what it’s worth!

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