My Favorite Films Of 2019!
Updated: Jan 1
This was a rather slow year for great films – at least for the first half. When discussing with a friend the good movies so far in July, this friend and I could only come up with two, perhaps three, that we even liked. It was a year of bombastic super hero films, mediocre live-action remakes of great animated films, and serviceable movies that entertained at the moment but were completely forgotten in a day or two. Several of my most anticipated movies ended up being real duds (GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS, HELLBOY, and THE GOLDFINCH…looking at you) and others started with promise but never found their footing or lost their gains with their endings (US, DOWNTON ABBY). Finally, in the last third of the year, great films began finding their way into theaters…and onto Netflix; the streaming giant really brought their A-game this year with several of my Top Films of the Year! It was also a year in which patience was rewarded, with several films that didn’t cut every other second to new scenes or blast the audience with information overload. Films like THE IRISHMAN, ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD…, and ATLANTICS truly rewarded the viewer with great movie-going experiences, but they unfolded at a much slower than usual rate for Western viewers. I wouldn’t edit out anything from them, as speed does not necessarily bring about the emotional release these movies shared with their audience. In the end, there were more than enough films that I loved to round out a solid list. It’s just too bad so many arrived in the last months of the year. I’ve said it before, and I will surely say it again – Hollywood, we can have good films all year round, not just during Oscar-Bait Season.
My ordering of these films after the first three could change on a daily basis!
Here are my favorites of 2019…
1. PARASITE – Korean director Bong Joon Ho brings us an elegant condemnation of class structure and the inability for the 1% to connect with the 99%. Don’t read anything regarding the plot of this film; just see it immediately. The twists and turns in the brilliant script could cause whiplash and the ultimate fate of the doomed characters is smartly handled. Is it a black comedy? A social justice issue film? A thriller? It doesn’t matter, as it’s simply the best film of the year in my opinion.
2. LITTLE WOMEN – Greta Gerwig’s lush new adaptation of the classic novel is a real treat. Adopting a flashback timeline, it freshens the material, but all the famous scenes are there and many of the original lines of dialogue from the book are utilized (I just reread it!). The acting is spectaculars across the board with an extra special nod going to Florence Pugh, who steals every single scene she is in (also watch for her in the quite good MIDSOMMER, which didn’t quite make my list). Massachusetts never looked more beautiful and it affected me and the packed house audience I saw it with so much that there was a lot of ugly crying. Just wonderful.
3. ONE CUT OF THE DEAD -- The NOISES OFF of zombie films. I always say I am sick of zombies and never want to see another, and then someone like Shin'ichirô Ueda comes along and turns the trope on its head. For the first forty-five minutes or so, we witness a zombie survival story done in one gorgeous long Steadicam take, although there are several weird moments that just do not make sense. Then, we get to witness the entire scene again from the filmmakers’ side as they juggle a drunken actor, people missing their cues, special effects that do not work, and a leading lady who gets far too aggressive with her weaponry. Hilarity ensues, and I haven’t laughed this hard in years at a film! A true original and a true joy!
4. ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD – Quentin Tarantino’s best film is a loving homage to the waning days of the Golden Age of Hollywood as well as a hopeful look for a changing America (read the title; it is a fairy tale in more than one manner). Featuring career-best performances by everyone in its sprawling cast, Brad Pitt especially shines. Some may find it a bit poky, and that’s the intention. As America found its way through a changing world, so do the characters, each in their own manner until that astonishing finale that truly makes one yearn for what could have been.
5. WILD ROSE – A young woman, just out of prison, has to come to grips with the fact that she knows nothing about raising a family, following a path of self-destruction that is downright painful to watch. She also has the talent and the dream to make it as a country singer in this Ken Loach-esque Scottish drama. It skirts some clichés, but avoids most of the pitfalls of the situation and a stellar star-making turn by lead Jessie Buckley earns the tears and anger the film brings. A little movie that could, I am surprised this isn’t on more lists in America.
6. THE IRISHMAN and MARRIAGE STORY and DOLEMITE IS MY NAME – Netflix brought their A-Game this year, with three films so good, they could each make the list (I know, I am cheating a bit here). THE IRISHMAN is Martin Scorsese’s best film in ages, an elegiacal look at toxic masculinity and old gangsters paying for unforgivable sins. We will never see the likes of Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, and Al Pacino with roles this juicy again, and all three give it their all. It’s a long film, but I wouldn’t cut a minute as each frame is so meticulously constructed and each scene adds to the ultimate pathos of the piece. MARRIAGE STORY is Noah Baumbach’s devastating look at divorce featuring amazing performances from Scarlett Johansson, Laura Dern, and, especially, Adam Driver as a married couple move from amicable separation to savagery when the lawyers get involved. The script is perfection itself, with monologues at the beginning and end that will tear out your heart and stomp on it. Repeatedly. Roses all around! DOLEMITE IS MY NAME is the funky backstage story of blaxploitation mega-star Rudy Ray Moore, expertly portrayed by Eddie Murphy. The 1970s grindhouse feel is expertly recreated, the music is awesome, and Rudy becomes such a fully real character you root for him despite yourself, much like ED WOOD. Delightful, profane, and very funny. If Netflix continues making films this good, Hollywood needs to watch out! Remember, last year they produced my personal favorite film, ROMA!
7. CRAWL – I know, I know, a movie about a nest of alligators attacking a father and daughter during a hurricane. Yet, this little film is a model of economy and great pacing. The characters are better fleshed-out than they have any need to be in an action/horror movie like this, and the gators are terrifying. There are jolts and scares and laughs, all due to the winking script by The Rasmussen Brothers and the taut direction of Alexandre Aja. Now this is how you make an exciting genre film – and at 82 minutes, it never overstays its welcome.
8. ATLANTICS – Mati Diop’s gorgeous film of poor Muslim French Senegalese workers struggling for their pay and one young woman who becomes the focal point of a haunting just as she is about to marry a wealthy man she doesn’t love is one of the most beautiful films this year. Deliberately paced, dream-like, and heart-breaking, this lovely film works as a love story and as a ghost story as well as a condemnation of capitalism and how it treats the little guy. When this film was entered into competition at Cannes, Mati Diop became the first woman of color to ever compete as a director. This one is quiet and unusual, but it is a rare treat for the eyes and a glimpse into a world seldom seen by Westerners.
9. JUDY and ROCKETMAN – Yes, it’s a two-fer, but each of these biographical films, although differing in style, are anchored by utterly brilliant performances by the leads – Renee Zellweger and Taron Egerton. And each of the actually sing the songs originally performed by legends Judy Garland and Elton John (take THAT Rami Malek!). While JUDY is an examination of a life ruined by the Hollywood System and a wistful look back at Judy Garland’s last months (and oh my, is it heart-breaking; I dare you not to weep), ROCKETMAN takes the form of an old-fashioned Hollywood musical to display the inner demons of Elton John’s troubled life. Both films work beautifully, and each of them are emotional rollercoasters.
10. IN FABRIC and THE LIGHTHOUSE – And now for something completely different! Two extremely odd films that break every mold possible and confused, angered, and delighted audiences who managed to catch them. IN FABRIC is an Argento-esque horror film about the terrors of retail and consumerism, focusing on a haunted red dress purchased at a shop that could be Hell itself. The performances are fabulous and the cinematography and sound design are exquisitely weird. THE LIGHTHOUSE is a stunningly filmed glimpse at a (possibly, maybe) descent into madness as two men (the wonderful Willem Dafoe and a never-better Robert Pattinson) spend months alone on an island running a lighthouse. Are Lovecraftian horrors visiting them or are they reliving a Greek myth or simply going insane? There are no easy answers, but repeated viewings of this black and white stunner expose layers of meaning.
HONORABLE MENTIONS for the year!
THE FAREWELL – a lovingly crafted tale of a dying woman and her family. Funny and heart-wrenching with a stunning, surprise performance by Awkwafina.
BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD – a reporter tasked with exposing Mr. Rogers comes face to face with kindness, and it changes his life. Gentle and sweet and lovingly crafted.
KLAUS – Gorgeous Netflix hand drawn animated film that really sneaks up on you.
DARK WATERS – Astonishing acting and swift pacing bring this true story of Dupont and the man who sued them after they contaminated the land. This was an important issue film for our times.
KNIVES OUT – For sheer audience-friendly entertainment, this star-studded mystery was old-fashioned and a real treat.
If you made it this far, you must be a film fan, and in the near future a group film writers (mostly from the now-defunct but much-missed Cinema Knife Fight) will be starting up a new film site, tentatively titled FILM HOARDE! Several have already completed Top 10 Lists for 2019, so, as a preview of things to come (cue eerie music), here are links to these appetizers.
More to come!