Well, another year, a bunch more movies. Once again I have failed to see some of the most talked about films of 2019. Films like 1917, The Irishman, and The Farewell are not included on this list – not because they’re not good, I simply haven’t gotten around to viewing them yet. I hope to correct this soon, but I also want to get this out around Oscar time. After all, they get to have opinions without seeing every movie that came out last year so I can do the same.
In total, I saw 51 films from 2019, at least that I can immediately recall. You can find them listed here. From this list, I have chosen my top ten to highlight. Are they the absolute best films of 2019? Who knows – it’s all subjective! Before I get into it, I want to give a couple honorable mentions. Highlighting ten films means that some gems get left behind – so a brief shout-out to Toy Story 4, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, Booksmart, Hustlers, and Dolemite is my Name. These are all great movies and you should check them out if you haven’t already. Okay, let’s get into it:
In my commentary on The Incredibles, I made mention of a “Golden Age” of Pixar. The period I am referring to there is 1995-2010. During this time, nearly every Pixar movie made (minus Cars) ranged from above-average to artistic work of animated perfection (Wall-E is on my top ten films ever made list). Sadly with the release of films like Cars 2 (seriously Lasseter, please let this series die) and Brave, the “Golden Age” of Pixar is over. Whether it is merely taking a short break or gone forever is yet to be determined. But let’s talk about Brave for a moment. Brave is the first non-Cars Pixar film that I have not fully enjoyed.
If I had to name my largest problem with Brave, it would be its sloppy application of its feminist message. I am not against a feminist film, really we need more of them. I believe the film medium is a great platform to intelligently convey ideas and perspective. Brave is not intelligent. Brave teaches us that teenage daughters know more than their mothers about life and that hundreds of years of culture can be disregarded without serious consequence.
So basic plot rundown for anyone unfamiliar with Brave. The film follows the story of Merida, a young girl being forced into marriage by her parents. Merida doesn’t want to get married and refuses, she flees her home and encounters a witch. Desperate to escape her fate, Merida buys a spell from a witch and uses it on her mother (cause it’s all her mother’s fault and not just the societal reality of the situation). This spell unexpectedly turns her mother into a bear and, for the rest of the movie, Merida proves how stupid everyone is and then doesn’t get married. I’m simplifying that last part but that really is pretty much it.
There’s a reaction scene in particular that irks me. When Merida first turns her mother into a bear. Merida scolds her, saying something along the lines of “well this is what you get for trying to force me to get married”. I have no problem with Merida saying this. She’s a teenager: selfish, proud… stupid. My problem is that the movie supports it. Not once is there ever an interjection on Merida’s immature approach to the situation. Marriage back in those days, particularly among royalty, was not done out of love. Marriage was a political move to make sure people didn’t kill each other. This was the reality for royal men and women.
True, Brave does make a side-mention that Merida’s suitors aren’t really interested in getting married either but again, you don’t change culture with a lectures from teenagers, especially not during the Medieval period! The problem really lies with centering the conflict on mother-daughter. Queen Elinor (Merida’s mother) has no real power in the situation. Blaming her for a system that already existed is believable on a character level but foolish on a plot level. Really if she wanted to actually change the culture, Merida’s main conflict should have been with her father, King Fergus since, you know, he is the only one at the time with power.
But Colin, it’s just a family film, you should cut it a break.
This is a Pixar film. These are the people who brought us Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Wall-E, Ratatouille, and Toy Story 3. They are capable of doing incredibly intelligent pieces of film making. I’m not against Brave‘s message, I just really wish it was done in a smarter and more believable story. Feminism is a rational belief, please make a rational movie out of it. But anyway, Brave came out last year so why am I talking about it? Because of this:
This is why movies like Brave have a point. Walt Disney has long been known for their line of princesses (most of whom do not take an active role in feminist culture) and Merida is now going to be included. That should be a good thing. Regardless of my feelings on the movie, including the princess who didn’t get married is good. It gives girls a new role model and teaches them that there is more to pursue in life than a ring. So yay Brave for that reason.
However, this “redesign” is not good… at all. It takes hotheaded, imperfect Merida and transforms her into a skinnier, doe-eyed fairy princess. So much for an intelligent conversation on feminism. Neither side here is right. We have the movie with its immature approach and now the Walt Disney corporation has reacted with their own immaturity (they are refusing to change the new image, despite objections from both the filmmakers and some consumers). Why make Merida look like that? Why take the fire out of this princess? She has been subjugated in this new design and no amount of impassioned lectures (yes I see the irony of this post) is going to change that.
It is sad that, in the 21st century, in a so-called age of progress, we’re still having stupid arguments. Having a stupid argument about a stupid subject is one thing but feminism deserves better than this. It is intelligent so can we please be mature about it? No more movies that strip it down to bare, idiotic ideals. No more redesigns that show us how important those ideals are in the first place. We need a better princess for feminism, good thing one exists – Mulan.
Note: if anyone out there feels that because Mulan has a romantic interest she cannot be a good role model for feminism, please tell me so. We’ll have a fun conversation about it.
Thoughts? Comments? Am I full of shit or onto something? Let me know now in the feedback section of this article.
I figured I would conclude a week’s worth of superhero posts by talking about one of my favorite “original” movies from the era: Pixar’s The Incredibles. The reason I put original in quotes is because, for all intents and purposes, The Incredibles basically adapted and made family-friendly the plot of Watchmen. Not that that’s a bad thing. For my money, The Incredibles is the best film version of Watchmen out there. Anyway, I’m not going to go in-depth on this comparison today. That’s not my reason for talking about The Incredibles. I watched this film yesterday and started really thinking about the content. The Incredibles does not have kids as its target audience. Does that mean it’s not a children’s movie: no. Does that mean that kids won’t enjoy it: no. Should you show it to your kids (if you have them): of course, it’s completely appropriate. But the fact remains that The Incredibles tells a far more adult-oriented story than most western animated films.
Basic plot rundown for The Incredibles: a family of superheroes in hiding must dawn their masks again to do battle with a new super villain bent on world domination. Doesn’t get more basic than that. Well that may be the plot, but that does not touch the themes of the movie. At its heart, The Incredibles is a commentary on one thing: marriage. I suppose if one wanted to look approach a little closer, the film is essentially the fantastical approach to how a marriage survives a mid-life crisis. Not a theme most kids are fully going to understand.
So thematically this is not a story about friendship or growing up, this is about what happens after. As such, most of the issues in this film are elaborations on that theme. Sure there are battles as well. Superheroes punch bad guys in the face and cause giant explosions. I know how I’m typing it makes it seem tacked on but it’s not. That’s one of the reasons that I really like The Incredibles. It works on multiple levels. You can watch the movie as nothing more than a high-action superhero romp and you will not be disappointed. Personally I think there is a bit more James Bond than Superman in the film (that might just be because of Michael Giacchino’s soundtack). Again, not a bad thing.
Let’s start with one of the larger subplots and one that may or may not be appropriate for younger viewers: cheating. In the first half of the film, Helen Parr (Elastigirl) is very suspicious that her husband may not be entirely faithful. She openly accuses him of being it later on, but anyway, back to it. This means that we’re dealing with sex in a children’s movie (gasp). You may say I’m reaching here, that while Bob might lie, there is no implication of sex or other sexual behavior in the movie. Really then, let’s look at the opening prologue:
I may have a dirty mind but I don’t think that’s just playful banter. There’s one or two things implied. But it’s not just this time either. In the last third of the movie, once the villain Syndrome has captured the family (he is holding them in his anti-gravity field) he makes a very lewd gesture once he realizes that Dash and Violet are Mr. Incredible’s kids. Let me clarify: it is lewd to adults but subtle enough that children might not notice, this movie is clever like that. Really writer/director Brad Bird should be commended for his use of subtly in this movie.
So the theme of mid-life crisis vs. marriage rears its head in this suspicion of adultery. Of course Bob is not cheating on Helen, the only reason for his suspicious behavior comes from the fact he is lying to her about his superhero life and work. I guess that’s better?
What other problems become part of a mid-life crisis outside of marriage. Death for one. Mr. Incredible has reached the age where people he knows are starting to die. In this case, they are not natural deaths. Again here comes the cleverness of Brad Bird and The Incredibles. It also ties back into the comparison to Watchmen. In both movies, someone is killing a lot of heroes.
Bob Parr is trying to hang onto his past while it’s being removed. He has reached the point where his old life is over (he doesn’t see his old friends outside of Frozone cause well – they aren’t around anymore) and his new life is going on. In typical mid-life crisis fashion, he is unsatisfied with it. What is his new life: marriage. It all comes back around. It is only when the two are brought together that our protagonist truly understands the strengths of his married life and the weaknesses of his role as a superhero.
I know it may seem like I’m trying to make The Incredibles out as too adult for children but I’m not. This is a great family film. I don’t think it should be condemned for approaching more adult material, I think it should be emulated. Western animation could use more films like this one. Movies that can be enjoyed by everyone but ring truer to the older members of the household. I mean think about it, if this movie was live action, it would have been rated PG-13, not simply PG. Western culture has a view that animated cartoons and their subsequent movies can only be for kids. Brad Bird has stated he does not hold with this view: “the point is, animation is not a genre. It is a method of storytelling. People are constantly analyzing it and misanalysing it as if it is a genre. It isn’t a genre. It can do horror films, it can do adult comedies if it wanted to, it could do fairy tales, it could do science fiction, it could do musicals, it could mystery, it can do anything.”
Yeah, I love The Incredibles and Brad Bird’s other Pixar film, Ratatouille, primarily for that reason. He is not a man who thinks animation is just for the family. Is The Incredibles appropriate for all ages: sure. Was it written only to be fun for kids: no. There is a very well done and very adult script driving this film.
Thoughts? Comments? Am I full of shit or onto something? Let me know now in the feedback section of this article.