Top Ten of 2019
10. THE FAREWELL
I wasn't able to catch this one at last year's Sundance Film Festival, but heard such glowing reviews that I regretted missing it all year. I expected much more of a full blown, light hearted comedy, akin to My Big Fat Greek Wedding, but what I got was so much more deeper and heartfelt. The Farewell takes its time and delights in showing the characters and their culture. It was not what the light and fluffy movie I expected, but instead was something that really stayed with me.
9. JOJO RABBIT
I expected Jojo Rabbit to be quirky to the point of irritation (which, to be honest with you is pretty much how I'd describe the works of Wes Anderson,) but to my surprise I found it to be equally delightful and poignant. The film wouldn't work without its young star Roman Griffin Davis who gives such a winsome performance and just feels like a genuine kid, with genuine kid observations. Scarlett Johansson too gives one of her best performances as well and Thomasin McKenzie is solid as well. The one weak link to me was actually Taika Waititi himself whose Adolf Hitler could probably have been in less scenes so the audience didn't feel quite so much hit over the head like we needed to get the idea of what he was going for.
8. THE IRISHMAN
The Irishman certainly requires patience of its audience, but gives back a reward for those that have it. While I think it could maybe have used a trim or so, once things really get going the intrigue keeps coming and coming like an unstoppable force. You really get invested in these characters and what's going to happen next. Everyone gives fantastic performances, but it's really fun to see Joe Pesci in particular shine again. The much talked about CGI in some scenes was flawless, while others felt distracting, but overall it was cool to see these same actors play characters that span a lifetime.
7. LITTLE WOMEN
Look I'm a sucker for a gorgeous looking adaptation of a literary classic. I'll be honest, I was really skeptical of the need of another iteration of Little Women, since I happen to really enjoy the Winona Ryder & Christian Bale version. That said, Saoirse Ronan makes for a fantastic Jo and while Timothee Chalamet has a long way to go to reach the heartthrob status that Bale achieved as Laurie (sorry Chalamet fans, he still just looks like a gawky teen to me...) he brings something really different to the role that was refreshing. But the real standout that made this adaptation a game changer was Florence Pugh as Amy. This movie really humanizes her more than any other adaptation and almost makes the story just as much hers as it is Jo's, and as such validates the Amy and Laurie relationship. While there are certainly moments that may not appeal to purists (especially that revisionist ending,) I actually enjoyed some of the departures and respected Gerwig's decision to honor what may have been Louisa May Alcott's true wishes for her characters and their story.
From a filmmaking standpoint, 1917 is one of the most impressive movies I've seen this year. In fact, it's absolutely stunning. The cinematography is so incredible it is literally hard to take your eyes off the screen and as such it's a movie that begs to be seen in a theater. So much care went into all of these continuous shots, and in the editing as well to make the cuts so seamless. The story, while simple is also beautiful in showing the difference just one person can make in the grand scheme of things.
An awful lot of fuss was made over Joker this past fall both by people who despised the movie (some without having seen it,) and by others who proclaimed it to be a comic book masterpiece. While I think that perhaps the reactions on both sides was a little overblown, the film is definitely on the good side especially because of Joaquin Phoenix's magnetic performance. Following up Ledger's iconic performance is no walk in the park (I mean...just ask Jared Leto,) but Phoenix proves here that he was just the man for a job and makes the role entirely his own. In a movie landscape so oversaturated with comic book movies, I really appreciated how fresh this one felt.
4. ONCE UPON A TIME IN... HOLLYWOOD
Okay is it possible to put a movie in your top ten just for the last 15 minutes or so? Asking for a friend. Just kidding, I enjoyed the movie as a whole before the ending, but the ending really made it come alive in defining what the movie was. Hollywood does kind of feel quite a bit meandering for much of its runtime in what the film is actually going to be about, but that said Leonardo DiCaprio seems to be having the time of his life playing Rick Dalton. He and Brad Pitt make such a natural pair in how they play off each other, it's a wonder that they've never co-starred together before this. The cinematography is also excellent, and several moments really have that iconic cinema feel.
3. MARRIAGE STORY
Long time readers will know that some of my favorite movies are ones that examine really realistic relationships. In Marriage Story, it's all about the aftermath of one and how the two go about to legally dissolve it. Things here get really ugly, and as a child of divorce this film really resonated with me a lot and during many moments was very hard to watch. Both Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are giving career best performances here and do an incredible job of letting you see each characters side and motivations. Neither of them are the bad guys here as they each share some of the blame in the actions that led to the relationships breaking point and the aftermath that followed. Its final message that's simultaneously sad and hopeful is that life moves on and this too shall pass.
Ari Aster totally swung hard with his sophomore effort following his masterpiece Hereditary and somehow managed to create another wildly unforgettable and iconic horror film. While Hereditary is undoubtedly scarier, Midsommar fills you with a sense of dread that you just cannot shake. I legitimately felt a pit in my stomach that did not even go away for hours after viewing it. It takes a lot for a movie to physically affect me, so the fact that Midsommar was able to I must tip my hat to Aster once again. Aster creates a living nightmare that hardly ever happens to take place at night. Horror movies almost all rely on the rule that the scares come at night, but Aster removes that crutch and aims for something higher in his bright, sunny pastoral Swedish commune setting. But perhaps the best thing about Midsommar is Florence Pugh, who gives a truly Oscar worthy performance and really captures pure grief in her performance. Unfortunately the Academy Awards doesn't care too much about amazing horror performances...just ask Toni Collette.
I just love this movie so much. This movie takes you on a ride. You cannot label or pigeonhole it to be any one genre of movie, because it honestly takes turns being all of them. If there's one thing I truly admire in a movie it's the ability to surprise when so many movies these days are so formulaic. Parasite kept me on the edge of my seat with every twist and turn because I just couldn't wait to see what happened next. That said, its unpredictability is far from the only thing the movie has going for it. Its deeper meaning and commentary on class is incredibly poignant and never more relevant.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: FORD V FERRARI, UNCUT GEMS, CRAWL, SHAZAM, BOOKSMART
THE LIGHTHOUSE, BOMBSHELL, AD ASTRA, DR. SLEEP, READY OR NOT, A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD,