The 10 Best Films of 2019

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This past April, the Oscars released a new set of rules for film eligibility beginning in 2020. Among those was the stipulation that in order to qualify for nominations, a film must have a theatrical run of at least seven days. A film released straight to Netflix, with no screenings in major theaters, would be ignored.

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Best TV of the Decade, No. 1: “Bojack Horseman”

Bojack

Over the past month, I’ve discussed a lot of great television. Shows that made me laugh, made me cry, made me think, and renewed my faith in humanity (if only for an hour each week). It’s been an extraordinary decade for television, both as a form and a medium, and it’s been a thrill to discuss some of the major TV accomplishments of the last ten years.

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Best TV of the Decade, No. 2: “Parks and Recreation”

ParksnadRec

TV is a constantly changing medium. Shows that were once considered bold and revolutionary can now seem tame and and antiquated. Hill Street Blues was once seen as a gritty police drama, but its reputation in this regard was overshadowed by Homicide and NYPD Blue, whose reputations were themselves overshadowed by The Shield and The Wire. All the syndicated fantasy dramas of the ’90s, such as Hercules and Xena, don’t hold a production candle to Game of Thrones. And early South Park episodes aren’t nearly as steeped in shock humor as the current lineup on Adult Swim.

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Best TV of the Decade, No. 3: “Halt and Catch Fire”

HaltCatchFire

The 2000s were generally a decade of critical TV conformity. Most avid viewers, in tallying up their favorite shows, would likely include at least one of HBO’s Big Three, with perhaps a dash of Six Feet Under or Curb Your Enthusiasm for some flavor. On the drama side, few critics could overlook The Shield, Lost, or Battlestar Galactica; for comedy, they peppered their lists with the likes of Arrested Development, The Office, and 30 Rock. Each list had its differences from the next, of course, but there was a general consensus of which dozen or so shows qualified as the peak of the Aughts.

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Best TV of the Decade, No. 4: “Breaking Bad”

Breaking Bad

Throughout this month, I’ve had the pleasure of looking back at a lot of great television. Moody dramas and hilarious comedies (and vice versa). The 2010s offered more TV than ever, and a greater variety than ever, filling every niche demographic you can imagine. No matter your tastes or preferences, there was most certainly something that could resonate with you these last ten years.

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Best TV of the Decade, No. 5: “Fargo”

Fargo

The year was 1997, and Fargo fever was riding high. Frances McDormand had just won an Oscar for her performance in the film, while the Coen Brothers picked one up for their screenplay. The film was widely celebrated by Cannes, the SAG Awards, and the WGA. Buzz was already building about the Coens’ next film, a little project called The Big Lebowski.

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Best TV of the Decade, No. 6: “Master of None”

Master of None

When historians look back on the 2010s, they will have no shortage of material to document and analyze. This was a decade defined by social media, which (for better and worse) went from popular to ubiquitous. It was a decade defined by an ever-widening generation gap, with “kids today” getting the rebuttal of “ok boomer.” It was a decade of political polarization and celebrity worship, of media bias and #MeToo revelations. It was the decade with the most – the most pop-culture, the most opinions, the most means of communication.

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Best TV of the Decade, No. 7: “The Good Wife”

Good Wife

Though much of my current attention is dedicated to this monthlong Best of the Decade project, I’ve also begun drafting up my Best of 2019 as well. As I’m organizing my Top 10, filled as it is with plenty of gems from cable and streaming services, I can’t help but notice that broadcast networks are entirely absent from the list.

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Best TV of the Decade, No. 8: “Community”

Community

In a move that will doubtlessly surprise some folks, I’d like to take a moment to discuss The Big Bang Theory. The CBS sitcom ran for 12 seasons from 2007 to 2019, and though ratings in its early seasons were middling (by its network’s sky-high standards), the show slowly grew in popularity and recognition over time, thanks to Jim Parsons’ performance and countless “Bazinga!” T-shirts. Beginning with the 2012-13 season, Big Bang ranked behind only NCIS in TV’s most-watched scripted programs, and finished #1 in each of its final three seasons.

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Best TV of the Decade, No. 9: “Better Call Saul”

Better Call Saul

One of the first films I remember seeing advertised as a child was The Phantom Menace, the new Star Wars film that had the world abuzz. Being quite young at the time, I found my interests gravitating more towards Tarzan and The Iron Giant, but it was difficult to escape the new wave of Lucasmania. I watched the original trilogy, and, across the early 2000s, the prequels.

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Best TV of the Decade, No. 10: “Review”

Review

When discussing the great networks of the modern era, the discerning TV fan will most certainly bring up a few reliable favorites: HBO, FX, and AMC. Maybe the more esoteric sorts will throw a Showtime or TNT into the mix. Rarely, however, will anyone bring up Comedy Central.

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Best TV of the Decade, No. 11: “Fleabag”

Fleabag

There have never been as many TV shows airing as there were this decade, nor has there ever been as much debate as to what constitutes “television.” So when I first sat down to prepare this end-of-the-decade project, I established a few guidelines (some of which were mentioned right at the top): A show had to have premiered at least 18 months ago for consideration. Shows that premiered in the 2000s or earlier would only be judged by the output aired in this decade. Miniseries would not be considered, since they remain a different beast from their longform TV brethren. Twin Peaks: The Return would not be considered because it is technically a movie (or so a handful of film snobs would have you believe).

Oh, and no foreign shows. Sort of.

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Best TV of the Decade, No. 13: “Better Things”

BetterTHings

Three years ago, had you asked a TV critic for a sneak peek at their prospective “Best of the Decade” list, odds are they would have included Louie. The dry and sardonic observational comedy from Louis CK was among the most celebrated shows of the early 2010s. An almost exclusively one-man production, the show featured slice-of-life commentary inspired by CK’s standup routine, with episodes that often seemed ostensibly plotless. It was an unusual show in its time, and critics hailed it as a new form of comedy storytelling.

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Best TV of the Decade, No. 14: “The Leftovers”

Leftovers2

The first major TV event of the decade occurred on May 23, 2010. That was the day some 13 million viewers tuned in to ABC to watch the movie-length Lost finale. After six years of questions, mysteries, and puzzles, everything about the island and its inhabitants would be revealed!

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Best TV of the Decade, No. 15: “Manhattan”

manhattan

We’ve all known the sting of lost love – in TV, if not real life. It’s always a downer when a show we cherish goes off the air, and it’s especially dispiriting if said show was cut short before it got to live up to its potential. The 2000s were filled with these one-season and two-season wonders, from Freaks and Geeks to Firefly to Wonderfalls to Carnivale. They lived before their time, and died before it as well.

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Best TV of the Decade, No. 16: “Atlanta”

Atlanta

Flashback.

It’s May of 2018. Donald Glover has just released his brand-new song, “This Is America.” The song debuts at #1 on the Billboard charts and the music video quickly racks up tens of millions of views. It goes on to win multiple Grammys, including Song of the Year and Record of the Year.

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Best TV of the Decade, No. 17: “The Americans”

TAmerican

If you spend enough time watching and analyzing television, you start to notice that, past a certain point, everything is relative. If a TV show is excessively bad, then any aspect of it which betrays even the slightest level of competence can be seen as brilliant. The Newsroom, for example, is among the most obnoxious TV shows of the decade, a preachy, ham-handed, self-righteous mess with more misogynistic dialogue than you can shake a MeToo hashtag at. It gets to the point that you begin valuing Jane Fonda’s recurring role or Will McAvoy’s therapy sessions – not because they’re particularly good, but because – compared to the rest of the show – they’re practically at the level of classic West Wing.

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Best TV of the Decade, No. 18: “Hannibal”

Hannibal1

Unless Viggo Mortensen teaching Mahershala Ali how to eat fried chicken strikes you as offensive enough to be terrifying, Silence of the Lambs is the only horror film in history to win a Best Picture Oscar. Adapted from the novel by Thomas Harris, the movie premiered to rave reviews in 1991, and is now considered one of the finest horror films ever crafted.

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Best TV of the Decade, No. 19: “Justified”

Justified

When it comes to discussing the greatest HBO dramas ever, few would argue with the admission of The Sopranos. Perhaps fewer would contest the inclusion of The Wire (though I may have, several eons ago). And Game of Thrones will likely get vocal support as well (though it’s perhaps best not to jump on that powder keg).

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Best TV of the Decade, No. 20: “Person of Interest”

20 PersonofInt

Perhaps no decade has seen as radical a shift in the world of television – what it is, what it can be, how we watch it – as the 2010s. Back in 2009, cable was booming, thanks to networks like HBO, AMC, FX, and Showtime, and TV at large produced about 200 shows per year. Networks retained fairly rigid annual schedules, even for shows that opted for the compact 13-episode format. Netflix had only begun to include “streaming” as an option, and was still primarily seen as a DVD-by-mail service.

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“Knives Out” is a Sharp and Pointed Murder Mystery

KnivesOut

Note: The following review avoids major spoilers, but it does discuss characters and plot elements. For those who haven’t seen it, I’d recommend going into this film knowing as little as possible.

The structure of the whodunnit is among the most rigid in the annals of literature. A crime – most habitually a murder – is committed, and the detectives are called to the scene. We meet the suspects, each with their own quirks and foibles, and the mystery is afoot. Some clues glitter the path, a few red herrings maintain the tension, at least one final curveball and the perp is unmasked. Explanations are given, plaudits awarded, final credits rolled.

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“Frozen 2” Tries Too Hard to Please Too Many

Frozen2

There was a time – quite recently, in fact – when sequels were anathematic to the Disney brand, banished to the six-month shelf life of DVD and home video markets. Even as Pixar began collecting riches and accolades from Toy Story sequels, the Mouse House chose to keep its animated brand relegated to originals only.

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Why “Charlie’s Angels” Flopped

CharliesAngels

In the lead-up to the premiere of the new Charlie’s Angels, some theater chains held an advance screening under the banner of “Girls’ Night Out.” The idea was to invite female viewers to bring their friends and get a chance to win a copy of the film’s soundtrack. The description did not specify if the screening was a “Girls Only” affair (as one theater chain had done with some Wonder Woman screenings a couple of years earlier), and since I had the night free, I decided to take the risk.

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Modern-Day Simpsons: 22 Episodes Worth Watching

Simpsons 22

Earlier this year, The Simpsons kicked off its latest season. Its thirty-first, to be precise.

Though I’ve been watching the show since childhood, I’m continually amazed when each new season begins: “It’s been on how long?” In 2009, the show broke the record as America’s longest-running scripted series (previously held by Gunsmoke), and last year, it broke the record for most episodes ever produced for a scripted series (previously held by… Gunsmoke). And in 2021, The Simpsons will become the longest-running sitcom in the world.

But with each mention of the show’s immortality, someone invariably brings up the caveat. “The Simpsons isn’t funny anymore. It hasn’t been funny since the ‘90s.”

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The Rise of Blockbuster TV

Mandalorian (2)

Millenia after our civilization reduces itself to a pile of ash and nuclear waste, alien archaeologists will ponder many questions – chief among them being “Who were these creatures, and why were they so obsessed with ‘streaming services’?” As they sift through the rubble with meticulous tentacles (or maybe hands – sorry for the stereotype, aliens!), they will attempt to piece together how this unorthodox form of televisual consumption came to be, how it grew in popularity – and the moment it went too far.

And if my prediction is accurate (again, it’ll be a few thousand years till we’re sure), they will conclude that moment to be somewhere in November 2019.

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The Key to a Great Horror Film

Horror Films

The Blair Witch Project is 80 minutes long, and was produced for an estimated $60,000. It features no big names, no glitzy special effects, and only the barest thread of a story. There isn’t even much in the way of a script – most of the dialogue was improvised by the film’s leads, and their scenes were shot on bargain-bin cameras.

And it’s one of the scariest movies ever made.

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Critically Touched: 10 Years Later

10th-anniversary-cake

September 2009 was a month that changed the world forever.

It was the month that a Paranormal Activity was given nationwide release. The month that The Good Wife, Community, and The Vampire Diaries made their TV premieres. The month that immortalized the phrase “Imma let you finish.”

But on the last day of the month, one event overshadowed them all.

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Emmys 2019: Some Well-Deserved Wins Can’t Save a Boring Ceremony

Emmys19Winners

In retrospect, I can’t fault the producers of the 71st Annual Emmy Awards for choosing to go without a host. Certainly, someone looked at the year’s earlier Oscar ceremony, which proved competent and watchable even with the unfilled vacancy left by the ousting of Kevin Hart. And certainly that person also theorized that it probably wasn’t worth the time and effort to track down a celebrity host for the Emmys and then learn from the world’s most valiant anonymous trolls that said celebrity had written a couple of off-color tweets in 2008. Add in the fact that this year’s show was broadcast on FOX, a network which doesn’t have any late-night hosts to fall back on (their last Emmys was hosted by Andy Samberg, star of Brooklyn Nine-Nine – a show the network no longer even owns) and you could be forgiven for allowing the production to air without an emcee.

But having sat through last night’s extremely boring and extraordinarily unfunny ceremony, I will take anyone to the mat if they suggest that the Emmys should continue this trend into next year.

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