Patsy the Angry Nerd’s Top Ten Directors of 2019: Feature-Length Edition
I would like to preface this by saying that these are not necessarily films that came out in 2019, but they are films that I was introduced to in 2019 and therefore have had an impact on my recommendations going forward. Besides, it’s my list and I’ll do it the way I want to do it! There might be one surprise on this list, and just like my last list, this one is in no particular order.
Rian Johnson – I’m getting the surprise out of the way immediately. I know that I have given Rian Johnson a lot of guff for what happened with the Last Jedi debacle, but Knives Out was one of the best films I saw all year, and I watched 356 movies. To be honest, I had no idea that he wrote and directed that film until the credits rolled at the end. I had the exact same response to that as I did when I saw the excellent performance by Hayden Christiansen in Life as a House: Why couldn’t you do that for Star Wars!? I loved Knives Out and I recommend it highly, and as a result of that film, I look forward to checking out more of Johnson’s work. That is not something I felt when I watched Last Jedi.
Skip Shea – I’ve known Skip for a while, but we finally got to interact a bit more in 2019, and I’m honored to call him a friend as well as an inspirational filmmaker. Skip has done quite a few short films, and personally I think Microcinema is amazing. Skip’s first feature-length film Trinity technically premiered in 2016, but in 2019 it showed at the Coolidge Corner Theater and was finally available for distribution and home release in December, so for me that counts it as a 2019 film (you can get it here). The amount of raw emotion you get from watching the plot of this film unfold, in addition to the powerful performances you get from the principal actors (Sean Carmichael, Diana Porter, Aurora Grabill, and David Graziano) really helped tell this story, based on events in Skip’s own life. I was fortunate enough to have Skip as a guest on the podcast to discuss this film, and I highly recommend checking out that episode, as I think it is one of the best we’ve done due to Skip being a great interviewee. Here’s the link if you’re interested.
JJ Abrams – JJ had a tall order in closing out a nine-film, 42-year-long saga that was mired in a funk after two poorly received films that divided the fan base and caused a lot of terrible backlash against the actors, especially Kelly Marie Tran of Last Jedi. In my opinion, The Rise of Skywalker tied up a lot of loose ends (while still leaving a few threads hanging to facilitate spinoff films, TV series, and/or games) and closed the saga fittingly. It might not be what everyone wanted, but I think it did a great job of concluding the stories in a satisfying way of the main characters we loved from the original trilogy.
Joe & Anthony Russo – Speaking of bringing sagas to their conclusion, the Russos did that expertly with the penultimate film of Marvel’s Infinity Saga with Avengers: Endgame. They were able to pack a lot of emotional gut punches (“I am inevitable.” “And I am Iron Man.”) into a superhero film that also gave you the opportunity to stand up and cheer (“On your left.” “Avengers assemble!”). This is a film that is in the running for best of the year, and it couldn’t have been easy managing so many talented actors who are used to being the focal points of films but they managed to do everything we hoped we would see in this conclusive film.
Paul J Salamoff – Paul’s debut film Encounter was the culmination of a lifetime spent in the film industry working in various aspects of the craft of filmmaking. Encounter plays off a lot of the tropes that tend to crop up in sci-fi films about extraterrestrial life and horror films and kind of turns them on their head. He does a great job of setting expectations and subverting them in a fiendishly clever way. This is another of the films I watched this year that I highly recommend, especially since it sort of flew under the radar and didn’t have a huge marketing campaign behind it. It is available, however, on Amazon and in-store at both Target and Wal-Mart.
Alexandre Aja – The way Aja took the Crawl script penned by Shawn and Michael Rasmussen and turned it into one of the best films of the decade was masterful. I was already a fan of his work since I first saw The Hills Have Eyes remake. Not only did this film take the animal attack tropes and dash them quite expertly, but Aja also shows that you don’t need to follow the same formula every time in order to have a good or successful film. For example, when you have a lot of creatures, one of them usually gets marked or injured in a way that you can tell it apart from all the others and they’re sort of the default antagonist and they pop up repeatedly throughout the film until there is a confrontation with the main protagonist at the end. Crawl did not do this, nor did it give you a definitive ending. I loved that.
MAJAMA – Matthew and Jason Ellsworth and Matteo Molinari created one of the funniest films I saw all year in Bad CGI Sharks. I loved the concept of this film, and once I actually got a chance to see it I was hooked. I own 12.5% of the world’s supply of Bad CGI Sharks VHS tapes, as well as the Blu-ray. This was the debut film of these guys and you can certainly tell that this was a passion project and overflowing with love for their story. I loved this movie, and I cannot recommend it highly enough for those of you who enjoy shark films. It doesn’t take itself too seriously but understands what its purpose is, and that is pure entertainment.
Jim Jarmusch – The Dead Don’t Die was one of my most highly-anticipated films of 2019 not only because of the surreal trailers that were released and the quirky way the actors were shown in those trailers. The cast was amazing, made up of some supremely talented actors who also were able to deliver on Jarmusch’s script in a way that really made the audience feel like they were a part of things. Jarmusch absolutely nailed this film and got the absolute best from the cast.
Jordan Downey – If you haven’t seen The Head Hunter, you’re missing out on something amazing. There are only five people making up the cast and crew. Downey does an incredible job with such a small amount of people. The film takes place in only a couple of locations, mainly in the home of the main character, only called “Father” played by Christopher Rygh but it still somehow feels as grand and epic as the Lord of the Rings trilogy. This is another film that technically was released on the festival circuit in 2018 but didn’t make its way to the States until 2019 so I’m counting it.
Bill Fulkerson & Kyle Kuchta – Survival of the Film Freaks is one of the best films I watched all last year, and for good reason – it was a labor of love. Bill and Kyle have a love of cult cinema and possess a lot of knowledge of the genre so they know what makes something a cult classic as opposed to just a bad film. Let’s be honest here, just because something is a “cult classic” that doesn’t necessarily exclude it from being a bad film, but they’re not mutually inclusive, either. Not only was this a great documentary with a lot of cult cinema experts and pioneers, but it gave me a whole new list of films that were featured that I looked at and said “Man, I really want to see that!” and the fact that the Blu-ray came with a checklist of the films within the documentary was a great bonus feature. I enjoyed this film so much that not only did I support the crowdfunding endeavor and picked the perk that gave me the Blu-ray and the soundtrack on cassette, but I also own the VHS version and the Rock and Shock convention exclusive “bootleg” DVD version. Bill and Kyle are excellent people and talented filmmakers that I am honored to know and call friends and I hope to learn from them in the future.
Quentin Tarantino – As usual, QT knocked it out of the park with Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood and took a few liberties with historical accuracy, this time with the Manson Family instead of World War II. His incredible writing talents were on display and of course, his casting was perfection. Margot Robbie, Leo DiCaprio, and Brad Pitt were all excellent in their roles and each should at least be up for consideration for Academy Awards. I enjoyed this film a lot, despite what many folks were saying about it being too slow of a burn, even for a Tarantino film. I thought it built up the tension quite nicely, and you never were too sure exactly how the film was going to end.
Michael Dougherty – Dougherty’s film Godzilla: King of the Monsters was perhaps my most highly-anticipated film, right up there with Avengers: Endgame and Rise of Skywalker. I love Godzilla and Dougherty did a fantastic job not only with the Big G himself, but the addition of Rodan, King Ghidorah, and of course the Queen of the Monsters herself, Mothra was incredibly well-done. Not to mention all of the additional, original kaiju created specifically for this film. I loved it. Tons of monster action, great heart and some incredible nods to the source material like the themes for the various monsters. It was a great way to build on the solid foundation that Gareth Edwards built in the 2014 film and helped set up the next installment helmed by Adam Wingard. It seems like Legendary took a page out of Marvel’s playbook and despite all the films being directed by different people, the storylines are coherent and all leading to one inevitability, and Dougherty was clearly the right person for this film.
David F Sandberg – I’ll admit that I wasn’t too sure about SHAZAM! I didn’t know much about Zachary Levi and I thought that the costume with its built-in muscles was kind of a cop-out compared to the rigorous training that the other DCEU actors put in for their roles, even JK Simmons got so jacked for his few minutes of screen time that the Internet had dubbed him “Gym Gordon”. All of my fears were unfounded because Sandberg did an incredible job not only with the source material but he got everything he could out of his cast.