15. Good Boys
Two coming-of-age movies, both premiered at Sundance, both recalled Superbad with their raunchy comedy and plots about kids attempting to get to their first big party, and both not only featured DJ Shadow and Run the Jewels’ “Nobody Speak” on their soundtrack but also in their trailer. How can I not lump together Good Boys and Booksmart? There are plenty of differences, of course. One is about girls, the other about boys. One is about high schoolers, the other middle schoolers. One of them received enormous acclaim but little box office success while the other grossed four times as much yet has hardly been talked about at the end of the year by most critics. Is Booksmart miles ahead of Good Boys on many levels? Perhaps it is more meaningful but let’s not dismiss the latter.
Good Boys, which was actually produced by Superbad writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, follows three unpopular friends as they plan to attend their first makeout party. The comedy is in the many obstacles they face in their adventures leading up to the climactic event, with the usual run-ins with the law and mix-ups with drugs. Of course, because they’re younger and smaller than the typical kids of these kinds of movies make their ordeals and especially their encounters with adults that more exaggerated. And their constant swearing is also leaned on a lot for humor. Aww, it’s little Jacob Tremblay saying fuck! Tremblay is hardly the standout this time around, though. He’s a central straight man between two outstanding newcomers. Keith L. Williams and Brady Noon are each hilarious in distinct ways, with Noon ultimately stealing the whole movie with his performance of “I Want to Know What Love Is.” These future stars deserve so much more credit.
As for Booksmart, we also saw the makings of a few stars in Olivia Wilde‘s feature directorial debut. Billie Lourd is definitely a major breakout of 2019 with her magically constant appearance as a free-spirited young woman opposite leads Katelyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein (sister of Superbad star Jonah Hill), the latter of whom has the most to gain going forward. This movie packs in a lot, including musical numbers and stop-motion animation sequences, as it goes through the motions of the one-night teen movie, following two academic overachievers who realize it’s time to have some fun on the eve of graduation. But it does go above and beyond in its journey as it covers a lot of ground regarding its familiar themes of friendship and growing up as well as in its representation. It’s more emotionally character-driven than most of its genre, so we come away thinking more about Amy and Molly as people we care about than any of their specific comedic moments.
Fans of the ABC sitcom Fresh Off the Boat received some excellent additional content from its talent this year in the form of the movies Hustlers and Always Be My Maybe. Just in time to prove that the actors and creatives are set for further success when the TV show ends its run early next year. Each of these movies stars one of the Fresh Off the Boat leads while one of them is also directed by the show’s creator and stars one of its writers. Outside of that, there’s not a whole lot they have in common.
Constance Wu, who plays mom Jessica Huang on Fresh Off the Boat, follows up her big-screen breakout in Crazy Rich Asians with an even more captivating lead performance in Hustlers. Based on a true story, the movie could have been a serious crime drama following the schemes of a group of strippers who drug and then steal from wealthy clients. But with Will Ferrell and Adam McKay as producers (through their female-focused subsidiary shingle Gloria Sanchez), Hustlers approaches the tale, with its basis in the financial crisis, as a kind of cousin to The Big Short, minus the documentary-style elements, and The Wolf of Wall Street. Jennifer Lopez is certainly extraordinary in her supporting role, though I think Wu remains the most outstanding actress among the ensemble, which as a whole offers an exceptional look at sisterhood only achieved through the lens/gaze of a skilled woman filmmaker like Lorene Scafaria.
12. Always Be My Maybe
Always Be My Maybe, directed by Fresh Off the Boat showrunner Nahnatchka Khan and starring Randall Park, who plays Louis Huang on the sitcom, is the latest romantic comedy from Netflix to prove the streaming service is the place these days for quality entries in a genre once thought to have hit a dead end. Unlike his TV role, Park is not the chef and restaurateur in this story of a culinary celebrity reunited with her childhood best friend. That part belongs to and is owned quite remarkably by comedian and Fresh Off the Boat writer Ali Wong. She and Park have incredible chemistry, and that goes for when their characters are not getting along as when they are (remember, chemical reactions are not always about attraction). They’re never repulsive from our vantage point, though, magnetic personalities throughout. I’m going to need many more movies with this duo; they can be the next great rom-com pair or co-lead any other genre. No celebration of Always Be My Maybe is complete without the obligatory highlight of Keanu Reeves as a parody of himself, but even his lengthy cameo can’t distract from the powerful allure of Park and Wong.
11. Toy Story 4
Keanu Reeves is also one of the most memorable parts of Pixar’s latest animated feature, though this time he’s not lampooning himself, as he is in two other comedies on this list. He is also neither the biggest nor the funniest of the new additions to the Toy Story franchise. That, of course, would be Forky, the plaything made from a spork and other trash who reached immediate iconic status with his Toy Story 4 introduction (now carried further by his own weekly Disney+ series). There are a lot of memorable characters and hilarious performances on this list, some of them star-making, but no one broke out as a comedy superstar the way Forky (voiced by Tony Hale) did. Put him in the next Superbad knockoff or rom-com or zombie film or Harmony Korine joint. Not that he’s the only thing making this sequel one of the funniest or overall best movies of the year. He’s actually not even in a lot of it. There’s plenty else involving the usual favorites and return characters as well as other newcomers to give audiences of all ages many laughs and also tears.