My Top Ten 2019: David Atwell

My Top Ten 2019: David Atwell

My 2019 Top Ten list is going to look pretty ridiculous to almost everyone who reads it. I didn’t get a chance to see a lot of the end-of-year Oscar contenders, as a result of a new baby right at the end of the year (he was born on the day The Rise of Skywalker dropped). But many of the movies I saw this year, the ones which really resonated with me, have some sort of deep, personal connection that’s tough to quantify (not that I didn’t try); a personal connection I don’t expect you to share, but hopefully I can explain well enough for you to understand. Here’s the stuff that hit me in 2019.

#10: Just Mercy

Michael B. Jordan at his charismatic, troubled best. Jamie Foxx showing a painful amount of despair. But while this film had some pacing trouble, the story behind it is important, thoughtful, and well-told. The fact that every event depicted in the film happened during my lifetime is troubling. Early last year, I read The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton (played by O’Shea Jackson Jr. in this film), which changed my mind about a lot of things; Just Mercy encapsulates most of what bowled me over about that book, as it covers the same events and prejudices from a different inmate’s perspective. Had it maybe received another pass each in the script phase and the editing phase, this film could’ve easily been an Oscar contender.

#9: Captain Marvel

If you’re the type of person who rolled your eyes at this one, well, you’ve never met my wife Natalie. Talking with her about this movie was a joyful experience (and you can experience that joy yourself by listening to the podcast she was on with Fizz and Hannah). Sure, there’s an indulgence in the “girl power” moments; but how often do we see those in big-budget superhero films? (Hopefully more) Sure, Brie Larson portrays her role in a muted, perhaps even downcast way, but wouldn’t you be muted if you’d discovered that everything you knew was a lie, and that you were being used as a weapon to kill innocent people? Sure, there are come continuity issues, but isn’t that par for the course in a film franchise that has spanned a decade? An already-enjoyable Marvel film took on a whole new dimension when I watched it through her eyes, and putting it on Disney+ again while tending to a newborn brought out even more new insights and a hope that I can give my kids an empowering tale that resonates with them like Captain Marvel resonates with Natalie.
A Reel World Theology Captain Marvel review (by my wife!)

#8: Aladdin

Aladdin has been my favorite Disney animated film for as long as I can remember. I was certain that this film wouldn’t capture the magic, the beauty, the madcap thrill of the 1992 masterpiece. And so, when I sat down to watch this film, imagine my reaction when I discovered that…I was absolutely right. Because the live-action remake of Aladdin captured a whole different magic, beauty, and madcap thrill; it doesn’t try to surpass so much as accentuate the original film. As I wrote at the time, it’s a “fun and beautiful feature, with a more layered story, more breathtaking visuals, a greater set of musical performances, and more chemistry between the leads; in fact, were it not for Robin Williams and Jonathan Freeman’s turns as Genie and Jafar in the original, I believe that this one could have surpassed the animated classic (and, indeed, Naomi Scott’s brilliant performance nearly pushes it there on its own).” My appreciation of Naomi Scott’s brilliance has only grown since; and while I still prefer the original animated classic, this was an experience I’ll relish going back to again and again.
Reel World Theology’s Aladdin (2019) review

#7: Spider-Man: Far from Home


I’ve felt the helplessness, the imposter syndrome, the deep longing to make a difference and fear that I’ve already failed to do so, the abject failure that Peter Parker reaches in this year’s Spider-Man entry. I’ve had not only months, but even several years in a row like that. Coming out of it was a relieving but painful process, and seeing Parker become “the next Iron Man” after reaching his lowest low was a cathartic experience.
But Far From Home takes it beyond that; and I explored this more in my article on the film.

For a superhero that I’ve always enjoyed in a passing way, this film really gave me a whole new appreciation and connection with him.
Reel World Theology Podcast #206: Spider-Man: Far From Home and Absolute True Facts

#6: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker


The Star Wars franchise is a particular source of joy for me. My parents’ first date was to see the first run of the original 1977 film, and I grew up hearing tales of their frequent return to the theater that summer to take it in again and again. The beginning of the series wasn’t the beginning of my life, nor was the end of it the end of me; but since my youngest child was born on the day it came out, it’s tough to argue that the familial connection doesn’t feel portentous to me. Particularly since the franchise is all about family.
The Rise of Skywalker wasn’t a perfect film, nor was it the best possible sendoff to the saga. But let’s be honest here, it wasn’t really the end; and it was a fun, thoughtful, and meaningful conclusion to the franchise’s current iteration.
Reel World Theology’s The Rise of Skywalker review
Reel World Theology Podcast S7E05: The Rise of Skywalker and Choosing Our Family (featuring Home One Radio)

#5: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood


It wasn’t as good as 2018’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor, but it didn’t have to be. It was touching and sweet and thoughtful and hopeful and exactly what we need right about now.
Plus, it almost literally gave me a jump scare.
Reel World Theology’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood review, wherein I detail that jump scare
Reel World Theology Podcast S7E04: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and Seeing Humanity

#4: Apollo 11


I’ve been a NASA fan for as long as I’ve been alive; and one of the thoughts I remember having while watching Apollo 13 was “I wonder if they used real NASA footage for this movie?” Well, Todd Douglas Miller actually did. And he did so masterfully, allowing the film to narrate itself; it doesn’t drag on or overstay its welcome, and it shows a crystal-clear view of the famous lunar mission whose fiftieth anniversary passed last summer like we’ve never seen it before. The drama of the film is the drama of the event, and the result is a nearly perfect documentary. Once again, the Academy has passed over the best documentary of the year for even a nomination. I don’t want to live on this planet anymore.
Reel World Theology’s Apollo 11 review

#3: Avengers: Endgame


What the Marvel Cinematic Universe has managed to do over the last decade is nothing short of miraculous. While Superman and Batman may have begun and shepherded the superhero genre in film through its infancy, the MCU has brought it into its fullest form; and I, for one, absolutely adore it. The culmination of this madness began in 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War, and it would’ve been so simple for them to just phone in Endgame; to not engage with any of the themes or ideas they brought up in the other films, to ignore the power of the shared universe and run screaming from the contradictory expectations of Endgame. But the Russo Brothers not only refused to run screaming, they met the challenge and gave us a behemoth worthy of three hours of our time. As the end of the first chapter for one of my favorite active franchises, seeing Endgame gave me powerful emotions, before, during, and after the film. It’s rare that anything sticks the landing this well; let alone a film series so successful that it established a whole genre.
Reel World Theology’s Avengers: Endgame review
Beautiful and Necessary: The Empowerment of “That Scene” at the end of Avengers: Endgame
Reel World Theology Podcast #201: Avengers: Endgame and Finishing Well

#2: Shazam!


A solid and excellent film that completely eschews the universe’s recent grimdark past in favor of something more exuberant, self-aware, funny, and even thoughtful. It feels like DC’s answer to Spider-Man, or like a Phase One version of Guardians of the Galaxy without all the cosmic stuff.
It isn’t complex, but it doesn’t have to be. The stakes aren’t insignificant, but they’re well-established and manageable. The solution is a surprise but at the same time obvious from the start. Zachary Levi is hilarious, the kids are perfect, Mark Strong is fine, and it was nice to get John Glover back in the DC universe (in a very similar role to his turn as Lionel Luthor in Smallville). The action served the story, the eye, and the comedy at the same time.
And it’s touching, too! The adoption metaphors are strong with this one, and it’s easily my favorite superhero film of a very heavy superhero year.
Reel World Theology’s Shazam! review
Reel World Theology Podcast #202: Shazam! and the Power of Family, in which JR convinces me to change my rating on the air.

#1: Knives Out


What a movie. What a movie! Such a fun film, with depth and gravitas that make it MORE thrilling. And the writing is sublime; There was absolutely nothing in Knives Out—not a solitary frame, not a half-glance, not a single word said as an aside—that didn’t contribute to the climax in some meaningful way. It’s tightly-wound and kinetic, thoughtful and hilarious. You come out feeling smart even though you didn’t figure any of it out beforehand.
It’s not a good whodunit. It’s not a great whodunit. From my point of view, it’s a platonic ideal whodunit; along the lines of Clue (1985), but with cleverness replacing the madcap. It’s the most fun I had in a theater in 2019, and I’ve spent the weeks since I saw it trying to convince everyone I know to watch this film before they’re spoiled on it.
Reel World Theology’s Knives Out review

• •
Honorable Mentions:
Dolemite is my Name
Pokemon Detective Pikachu
Late Night
Alita: Battle Angel
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Make sure you drop by the Reel World Theology discussion group on Facebook to tell me how I’m wrong about it all. See you there!

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