The Best, Worst, and Wildest Things We Saw at the Movies This Year
We saw a ton of great movies in 2019, both in theaters and on Netflix. The sheer number of films released over the past 12 months can make it difficult to remember all the movie moments and performances you enjoyed so much throughout the year -- the scenes that aren't going to pick up Oscars when the Academy Awards are handed out in February, but that are nonetheless deserving of tribute.
That's why we've returned to hand out coveted Thrillies at our annual Thrillist Movie Awards. Like the inaugural 2018 edition, this year's TMAs honor the many outrageous, bizarre, inspiring, dumb, and spellbinding movies, performances, and phenomena that made 2019 special. Here's hoping 2020's films feature as many dope vomit scenes as the year we're leaving behind.
Writers: Leanne Butkovic, Dan Jackson, Anthony Schneck, Emma Stefansky, Esther Zuckerman
Art: Danna Windsor, Jason Hoffman
Best Best Picture: Uncut Gems
Rarely does a single year in movie-going offer so many examples of master filmmakers working at the top of their game. Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese both made films, with Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood and The Irishman, respectively, that feel like the culmination of themes they've been wrestling with throughout their lauded careers. Bong Joon-ho, long known as one of the greatest auteurs in Korean cinema, became a stateside heavyweight with the bitingly funny and terrifying Parasite. Greta Gerwig gifted us with a peerless adaptation of Little Women.
But no film grabbed us this year quite like Uncut Gems, a stress-inducing, scummy, epic dive behind the mostly closed doors of New York City's Diamond District. Directed by siblings Josh and Benny Safdie, the pair who gave us the 2017 heist-core indie Good Time, the crime thriller tells the operatic story of a Jewish jeweler, played by Adam Sandler, who makes the wrong choice at every turn and is a menace to everyone around him, all in service of feeding his destructive gambling addiction. Gems is a tragedy of excess that draws you in with shiny things -- NBA legend Kevin Garnett! a bejeweled Furby! a cameo from The Weeknd! -- only to drag you back into the muck of human existence, a perfect summation of America circa 2019.
Best Worst Picture: Serenity
"I am the rules," says Reid Miller, the mysterious suit-wearing figure played by Succession's Jeremy Strong in Serenity. If you've seen this batshit neo-noir, which stars Matthew McConaughey as a fisherman named Baker Dill who gets recruited by his ex-wife (Anne Hathaway) to kill her abusive new husband (Jason Clarke), you know that Serenity plays by its own inexplicable rules. Logic is out; tuna is in. Like all the best bad movies, Serenity believes in the unshakable integrity of its own warped sense of reality. It has conviction, style, and a deeply personal point-of-view courtesy of Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight, who also wrote and directed the equally singular (but far better!) Tom Hardy showcase Locke. The guy only takes big swings.
Even though it came out in January 2019, Serenity kept its grip on our imagination for a whole year, which is a nearly impossible task at a time when bad movies rarely linger in the public consciousness for longer than the length of a single loop of a Cats GIF. No other misfire could compete with it in the category dominated last year by the good-bad Gotti. Travolta tried again in Fred Durst's violently bonkers The Fanatic, while Danny Boyle's Yesterday attempted to erase the Beatles and Netflix's Secret Obsession aimed to bring Lifetime cheesiness to streaming. But only McConaughey caught the big one. Serenity now -- and Serenity forever!
Box-Office Bomb That's Actually Great: Gemini Man
Considering the response to Ang Lee's previous high-frame-rate experiment Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk -- and the response to high frame rates in movie theaters in general (see: the first Hobbit movie, whose 48 frames per second left audience members feeling confused and nauseous) -- we probably should have seen Gemini Man's failure coming. A sci-fi action movie starring a guy who hasn't made a good sci-fi action movie in a long time, created using some esoteric combination of "K," "fps," "hi-def" and "3-D," not to mention a digitally de-aged Will Smith, wasn't exactly a box-office draw, earning just north of $48 million. But its massive Rotten Tomatoes disparity -- 26% positive reviews, 83% audience score -- suggests that what we've said all along is correct: Gemini Man is one of the best movies of the year.
Sickest Burn: "You fuckin' hippies" from Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood
There is no better display of anger on screen this year than the scene in Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood in which Leonardo DiCaprio, wearing a bathrobe and holding a blender full of margarita, yells at four members of the Manson family who made the mistake of pulling up into the cul-de-sac outside his house. Sure, the movie's ire toward hippies has been the subject of some debate. Is it a reactionary piece of conservative cinema railing at the young punks who ended Hollywood's Golden Age? Were the Manson family members brainwashed kids who didn't "deserve" the brutal beating Quentin Tarantino gave them?
We're not here to debate these points. We're here to relish in the glory of a trashed Rick Dalton hurling insults at the "fucking hippies" who appear in his driveway intent on doing murder. "You fucking hippies came up here to smoke dope on the dark road," he bellows. "Next time you wanna try that, fix your fucking muffler." He follows it up by calling their car a "mechanical asshole." It's art, really. It's not as if Rick himself doesn't look foolish. He's drunk off his ass and has no idea of the danger he's facing. But it's the fervor of his anger and the sloshing blender of booze that makes this the insult of the year, and really, every year.
Runner-up: Chris Evans saying "Eat shit" in Knives Out
Most Notable Non-Human: The seagull in The Lighthouse
How do we pick a non-human favorite? Well, sometimes it's measured in cuteness (Detective Pikachu), or special skills (Ellen, the singing chihuahua, from The Farewell), or doing a really good job (the gators in Crawl). But this year's most notable non-human was determined by how likely it would be to fuck with us if we messed with it, and that is the seagull from The Lighthouse. "It's bad luck to kill a sea bird," Willem Dafoe's superstitious Thomas Wake tells Robert Pattinson's Ephraim Winslow scenes before Ephraim, fed up by the throng of beady-eyed birds who keep shitting in their water reservoir, dramatically snaps one of their necks after grabbing it by the head and slamming it over and over again into concrete, thereby unleashing the sort of bad luck we'd not wish upon our worst enemies. Plus, if we step back into the production side of things, kudos to director Robert Eggers and his crew: It doesn't seem particularly easy to corral a flock of gulls into playing ball long enough to shoot a movie where the birds are your thematic leads. In short, we are great respecters of sea birds.
Runners-up: The gators in Crawl, the monkey in Ad Astra, Ellen in The Farewell, Goose in Captain Marvel
Best Supporting Food: Jimmy Hoffa's prison sundae in The Irishman
Jimmy Hoffa didn't drink or smoke. In Martin Scorsese's The Irishman, though, Al Pacino's version of the infamous union leader doesn't refrain from indulging, whether it's in beer-steamed hot dogs, the bottle of Canada Dry that's constantly at his side, the grating assholery that contributes to his death, or ice cream. So it's fitting that this child's treat serves as the ideal prop for a pivotal prison scene in a movie about men behaving with the pettiness, impulsivity, and rage of children. Anthony Provenzano (Stephen Graham), aka Tony Pro, aka The Little Guy, approaches a solitary Hoffa in the cafeteria and asks him to "look into" reacquiring his $1.2 million pension. Pacino pushes around his makeshift ice-cream sundae but never stops eating as he explains to Tony Pro that "it is what it is," before losing his cool and saying "you people!" Tony Pro takes exception to the "you people," swipes the ice cream off the table and lunges at Pacino. The ice cream transforms the scene from an argument over money into a lip-smacking, contemptuous, cherry-topped beginning of a rift with deadly fallout, with the grave stakes the convicts discuss offset by the soft serve's frivolity. We have to agree with Pacino's assessment of the jailhouse sundae: It's a work of art.
Runners-up: The peaches and ram-don Parasite; the vodka watermelon, hot dog in beer, and lard bread in wine in The Irishman; Brad Pitt's mac & cheese in Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood
Dopest Vom: Lili Reinhart in Hustlers
It was a big year for vomit at the movies. Spewing had an important role in Knives Out thanks to heroine Marta's gag reflex that renders her unable to lie. (It also provoked a tweet about kissing Chris Evans even if he were covered in regurgitated food. The answer may surprise you!) In Booksmart, Kaitlyn Dever's Amy takes an unfortunate sip from a red plastic cup filled with party detritus and retches all over her crush. There was an emotional scene featuring puking in Waves, and Naomi Scott's wannabe Angel in Charlie's Angels gets an upset stomach when she gets overwhelmed. But our queen of vomit this year was Lili Reinhart in Hustlers. As Annabelle, the Riverdale star has the most trepidation of any of the strippers Jennifer Lopez's charismatic Ramona recruits into her get-rich-quick scheme. And when Annabelle gets nervous, Annabelle pukes. Her voms are almost dainty, her concerns quite literally spilling out of her mouth. (In real life, Reinhart was spitting up masticated animal crackers and Sprite.) The vomits are the perfect little disgusting punchlines, and, thus, they are dope.
Runners-up: The hookup vom in Booksmart, Marta's truth vom in Knives Out, Elena's vom in Charlie's Angels
Vape God: Jake Gyllenhaal in Velvet Buzzsaw
For some reason, this was the most hotly debated category of this year's Thrillies. Then again, it makes perfect sense: In spite of the moral panic surrounding vaping this year, the act of vaping in and of itself -- so stupid! -- is still inherently funny to us. Zac Efron sucking on his huge rig in The Beach Bum? Will Poulter constantly hitting his weed stick in the Swedish countryside in Midsommar? Both hilarious, iconic caricatures of what a vaper looks like in 2019. But there can only be one Vape God to rule them all in 2019, and it is Jake Gyllenhaal's pretentious art critic Morf Vanderwalt in Velvet Buzzsaw.
But wait, you ask, how can Morf be the Vape God when he spends barely five seconds on screen vaping? First off, no one spends every second of their life inhaling vape juice, and if they do, well, that's usually how one ends up in the hospital with popcorn lung. Second, we must consider the state of vaping in 2019 as a standalone entity separate from broader vaping stereotypes. We've all seen people blowing ring tricks on YouTube with their huge rigs while dubstep blares in the background -- it's easy enough to argue that Efron's Flicker would have been one of those content creators -- but they are not of this era. The vaping Florida dirtbag with razor lines in his beard would have been a perfect Vape God for, say, 2017 or '18, but not now. And Poulter's smarmy Mark is That Guy -- we all know a That Guy! -- who probably went to Burning Man a couple years in a row and has no real interests; you cannot have a personality such as this and be a Vape God.
Which brings us back to Gyllenhaal's Morf, with a stupid little silver teardrop of a vape (it's probably a Suorin, if you were wondering), who reigns as the perfect encapsulation of vape culture in 2019. It's the year vaping went mainstream thanks to teens and the creative class, the latter of which was already smoking weed or cigarettes on the reg and found a cute new way to get the job done when it was marketed properly to them. Packaged as Juuls and Paxes, vaping became sleek, a shiny new habit to form. And so to Morf, the douchey figurehead and gatekeeper of LA's art world, everything about the act of vaping is ironic and novel; you don't seek out cute versions of an accessory if some part of you didn't regard the thing needing accessorizing as an easy ritual. This vape is cool-looking and elegant and simple and distinct from the vapers making tornados out of their smoke plumes, and, sadly, that defines the Vape God in 2019.
Runners-up: Zac Efron in The Beach Bum, Will Poulter in Midsommar, Katherine Langford in Knives Out
Sweater King: Chris Evans in Knives Out
There is no movie that will make you want to go out to L.L. Bean and buy 10 of their softest sweaters more than Knives Out, the coziest murder mystery of the holiday season. The whole thing takes place in picturesque, fall/winter New England on the grounds of a grand estate, where the inhabitants cluster together in wood-paneled rooms, swaddled in their scarves and their tweeds and their knits, plotting their way out of their conundrum. But the most striking, the most covetable, snuggest outerwear was worn by none other than Chris Evans' Ransom Drysdale, the trust-fund failson of the entitled characters played by Jamie Lee Curtis and Don Johnson who just wants to watch his terrible family members tear each other to shreds. Evans dons not one, but two enviable sweaters: the first a cable-knit style the fishermen of the Aran Islands would envy, artfully picked so as to look like something he plucked from a Goodwill aisle (rich people…); the second a lovely, soft, sky-blue number you could imagine wearing while sitting on your back porch with your lover, gazing out over the lake, while your dog, or maybe it's two dogs, frolic in the red rays of the setting autumn sun.
Runners-up: Tom Hanks in Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Robert Pattinson in The Lighthouse
Sweetest Garbage Boy: Forky in Toy Story 4
Truthfully, it's hard to define a garbage boy. Often garbage boys are not made of literal garbage. There were some garbage boys this year who were not sweet. Christian, the shitty boyfriend in Midsommar, was a spiritual garbage boy and he was awful. Another spiritual garbage boy? Matthew McConaughey's Moondog in The Beach Bum. He's a nice one though, a scumbag poet lurking on the streets of Key West. Still, there is only one true garbage boy in all of cinema this year, and he is actual trash. His name is Forky, and he speaks to our souls. When Forky was introduced in the trailer for Toy Story 4, there was some concern. Would he be a craven addition to the beloved franchise, aimed at delighting children and annoying adults? Would he bring any emotional weight to the continuing tale of Buzz, Woody, and the gang? Any assumption we might have had about Forky was wrong. Forky is quite possibly the most relatable character of the year. He is created by the child Bonnie, brought to life with a spork, some pipe cleaner, and a couple of googly eyes. Immediately, his sentience throws him into existential crisis. He's not a thing to be loved. He's trash and belongs in the garbage can. Forky's journey from hurling himself into rubbish to self-acceptance is moving. We are all trash. Forky is us.
Runners-up: Christian in Midsommar, Moondog in The Beach Bum
Best Movie Meme: Detective Pikachu Dancing
It's kind of a bummer when the best movie meme of the year was literally formulated by the studio that made said movie, but here we are. Unfortunately, Ryan Reynold's penchant for stunt marketing paid off when he retweeted a YouTube link posted by a fake-looking account that his latest, Detective Pikachu, had leaked. What the hell, Warner Bros! That, of course, was all just an elaborate Rick Roll: Not long into the "leak," it switches over from what would seem like the real beginning of the movie to a looped clip of Detective Pikachu rocking the hell out to an upbeat synth track for the remaining hour and 40 minutes of the video. Probably because the animators absolutely nailed the dance moves and committed facial expressions, the dancing Pikachu video took off as tons of people layered their own song of choice over our excited Poké-friend. Adorable and charming, it wins our movie meme of the year award.
Runners-up:Marriage Story argument, Joker dance, Keanu Reeves
Saddest Dad: Tommy Lee Jones in Ad Astra
The big joke when Ad Astra came out was calling it Dad Astra, which is great! Very funny, and true! It's a movie about space, but it's also about dads, and when those two things are combined, everybody wins. Tommy Lee Jones' character, H. Clifford McBride, left his son Roy (Brad Pitt) behind as a kid when he ventured off into space to try to find signs of life in the cosmos. His mission was a massive failure and he was feared dead, until the mysterious space program sends Roy all the way to Neptune to search for him. When they find each other, Clifford is near the end of his mind, distraught at having murdered his crewmembers when they tried to escape back to Earth, and fed up with his decades-long vain search for signs of extraterrestrial anything. When Roy attempts to take him back home on his own ship, Clifford balks, repeating that he found nothing, there's nothing out there. It's not until Roy tells him, "We're all we've got," that Clifford seems to understand he did find something out after all. Disappointing and terrifying as it is, it's important to know that humans -- dads included -- really are all alone.
Runners-up: Adam Driver in Marriage Story, Sterling K. Brown in Waves, Song Kang-ho in Parasite, Jason Clarke in Pet Sematary
Most Drone-y Moment: The drone attack in Angel Has Fallen
Expressionless in repose and inelegant in motion, high-end military drones traditionally make for tedious, underwhelming action movie antagonists. Basically, they look dumb. Since Hollywood blockbusters remain committed to fetishizing all the expensive hardware designed to wreak havoc in war zones, drones provided a creative challenge for filmmakers in 2019: How do you make these destructive objects genuinely scary? In Spider-Man: Far From Home, they served as a tech magic trick for a trickster super villain; in Hobbs & Shaw, they were just more junk for Jason Statham and The Rock to blow up; in Child's Play, they were simply fodder for smirking horror satire. Only Angel Has Fallen, the surprisingly sturdy Gerard Butler three-quel, found a way to make drones terrifying.
How did they do it? Drawing inspiration from Dunkirk and The Birds, director Ric Roman Waugh and his visual effects team used racing drones with propellers behind them to create deadly swarming weapons in the sky. "I wanted it to feel like we brought in 10 camera guys from the Golf Channel, the guys who can barely catch the ball when it's flying in the air, and I wanted it to always feel like we could barely catch the drones flying," explained Waugh when I asked him about shooting the drone sequence. It makes for one of the most unnerving action scenes in a movie this year.
Runners-up: Mysterio's drone-powered illusion in Spider-Man: Far From Home, the drones vs. trucks chase in Hobbs & Shaw, the drone controlled by Chucky in Child's Play, the drone from The Drone
Best Movie About Hanging With the Boys: The Beach Bum
It's been a phenomenal year for movies all about hanging with your boys: The Irishman, getting down and dirty with your boys; Ford vs Ferrari, keeping up a friendly rivalry with your business boy; Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood, enjoying some TV time with your main boy; and Midsommar, going on a trip abroad with your boys. The Beach Bum, however, plumbs the essence of what it means to hang with your boys -- all of them. There's the BFF Lingerie (Snoop Dogg), the unhinged boating guide Captain Wack (Martin Lawrence), the longtime book agent Lewis (Jonah Hill), the Christian vaper Flick (Zac Efron; see above), the Rasta pilot with the biggest joint we've ever laid eyes upon (Donovan St V. Williams), Jimmy Buffett (Jimmy Buffett), etc. Though Moondog, the loner that he is, prefers to chill in small pods of boys rather than gaggles, it's undeniable that he has a deep network of boys whom he can call upon to hang with at any time, and can easily turn a stranger into his boy after just a few hours in rehab. And thus, there is more or less the "plot" of the meandering and fun movie starring Matthew McConaughey as the Last American Beat Poet: hanging with the boys!
Runners-up:Ford vs Ferrari, The Irishman, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, Midsommar
Best Movie That's Not a Movie: The Snyder Cut
We've finally decided that we are desperate to see the Snyder Cut, a.k.a. the rumored "real" or "alternate" cut of DC's horrendous Justice League that fans are convinced the film's former director Zack Snyder and Warner Bros. have buried in a vault somewhere. The fans have gone absolutely buckwild since the movie was released with Hollywood safe guy Joss Whedon finishing things up after Snyder had to leave because of a family tragedy. The end product is awful, with layers upon layers of reshoots rendering it nearly unwatchable, and plots that come out of nowhere only to recede into the distance underneath a pound of CGI mud. But being a fan of anything means having hope, and the Snyder Cut folks are convinced that, before he left, Snyder had already made a watchable version. The theory was first cobbled together based on deleted scenes and shots in the trailers that never ended up in the final version, but has gained new life recently thanks to a number of stars rallying around Snyder and a literal rap song about how nothing from Marvel is "marvelous" and Snyder makes films that rival the Old Masters in their artistry. Real chill stuff.
Runners-up: Tik Tok of people putting food on their clothes, Primal
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