10. The Beach Bum
In the role he was born to play (in addition to Wooderson and Rust Cohle, of course), Matthew McConaughey gives a majestic performance as a stoner poet named Moondog in The Beach Bum. As can be expected with it being a Harmony Korine film, there’s lots of sex and drugs and other meandering debaucheries but there’s also a very straightforward situational comedy plot in the tale of Moondog being given a task to earn back his fortune after the death of his wife (Isla Fisher). Still, the style of the movie remains loose even as it begins to follow that contrivance of story, almost giving it the feel of a documentary about an outrageous local celebrity — even if there are so many unreal moments of comedy, including the unforgettable scene involving Martin Lawrence leading a dolphin tour.
9. The Legend of Cocaine Island
For an actual documentary about an outrageous Florida Man, let me continue to beat the drum for the Netflix feature The Legend of Cocaine Island, which was just announced for a remake starring Will Ferrell but is plenty hilarious on its own. One of two wild nonfiction films involving the Sunshine State with reenactments reminiscent of Drunk History (the other being Screwball), this doc shares the story of Rodney Hyden and his hunt for buried treasure in the form of a bag of drug money. The Legend of Cocaine Island is, not unlike Hustlers, a sort of true-crime fairy tale and it does deal with some serious issues of the legal kind, but it’s also thoroughly a comedic documentary marked by its larger than life characters (no way the remake will find a better Andy than the real deal), its sometimes unreliable narration, and of course its playful style and tone that peaks in its being yet another movie on this list with a “Nobody Speak” needle drop.
8. Dolemite is My Name
Biopics that play foremost as comedies can be problematic. Not just tonally, as they tend to be a mess when mixing broad humor with the central reality, but also in the way they might undermine their true stories and subjects with exaggeration, mockery, and more cheap laughs than genuine markers of accomplishment. Life may be full of funny moments, so why the need to overdo it? Well, two movies this year avoid such issues, thanks to their combinations of onscreen and offscreen talent that maintain consistent visions in their telling of stories of relatively unknown figures from fringes of pop culture. Dolemite is My Name and Fighting with My Family are quite different in their style and spirit but each takes an appropriate approach that finds the sort of truth that straight facts and other authenticities will never convey.
Craig Brewer‘s Dolemite is My Name is more of a caricature, of Rudy Ray Moore and the world he inhabited, yet it’s a fitting method of portraying the showmanship of such a flashy personality. This is the kind of biopic that screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (Ed Wood, Man on the Moon) were put on this Earth to provide us with. The movie belongs to Eddie Murphy, who triumphs in the lead role with his commanding voice and physical grace, trademarks we haven’t been able to appreciate so substantially in some time. He doesn’t hog the spotlight, either, allowing his supporting players to shine — especially Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Wesley Snipes, respectively the heart and the high point of the film.
7. Fighting with My Family
Florence Pugh is having her best year (though she’s sure to only have better and better after this one) with such a variety of roles and performances and genres, breaking out as the best part of Little Women and the driving force of the arthouse horror hit Midsommar. She’s been less talked about as the headliner of Fighting with My Family, though it’s here in her most mainstream vehicle (and unrecognizable next to her other two 2019 characters) that she proves her status as not just a phenomenal actor but also a movie star. Pugh plays professional wrestler Saraya-Jade Bevis, known to WWE fans by her ring name Paige, and it’s a grounded portrayal amidst the more comedic complements provided by Vince Vaughn, Nick Frost, and Stephen Merchant, who is also the movie’s director. Whether because you’re a fan of Pugh or just want a great inspirational underdog sports movie fairytale, don’t overlook Fighting with My Family assuming it’s just for wrestling junkies.
6. The Farewell
Just imagine the hijinx that ensue when a family attempts to keep their grandmother from finding out she’s dying. Now reel it in for a more honest and heartfelt dramedy based on filmmaker Lula Wang‘s own life and relatives and experience (Awkwafina stars as her semi-autobiographical avatar). Plenty of farcical moments, many of them steeped in cultural differences, are still there at play, but they’re more realistically depicted as the Wang clan holds a reunion in the form of a wedding as the guise of a gettogether in honor of their matriarch (played fabulously by Zhao Shuzhen). Personally, I didn’t even think it was a comedy since I didn’t laugh until the very end when I realized it’s not as sad a story as it seems. It’s a movie deserving of repeat viewings, partly because it gets funnier (or funny) the second time around.