Oh yes…2019. This was a year most of us didn’t care for and we kept looking to 2020 to give us a renewed sense of hope.
So much for that.
So yes…the United States of America is currently a cesspool overrun by despicable people and many people still seem to love these despicable people.
I will just sit that aside before I get more angry and frustrated than I already am and slide back into the talk of movies. Things are going to be interesting this year with COVID-19 still rearing its head and leaving most theatres closed or having many movies strictly be released on streaming platforms. We are at that point where any movie that will be an awards contender will be coming out soon whether it be on Netflix or at film festivals.
It will be interesting to see if the slate of films 2020 can provide will even match up to 2019, which I found to be a very strong year for film. 2018 had released some great selections but you wouldn’t have even be able to tell it based on most of the movies that got a lot of awards attention. 2019’s Award contenders were A LOT better but pretty much all of the nominees (aside from one very notable exception) would’ve made my top 11-20 as opposed to my top 10…and yet they were all mainly very good films.
After having caught up on a few missing selections in the last few months, I have decided to finally post my list of my top 10 favorite films of last year. Yes, for those who know me, you probably already know what my #1 is going to be.
BOOKSMART, THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON, DOLEMITE IS MY NAME, FORD V.S. FERRARI, MARRIAGE STORY, HONEY BOY, THE IRISHMAN, THE SOUVENIR, and LITTLE WOMEN.
#10-MIDSOMMAR (Directed by Ari Aster)
-After an absolutely remarkable debut in 2018 with the brutal horror film HEREDITARY, Ari Aster brought this rather disturbing entry that was a nod to the original WICKER MAN with a dose of emotional turmoil for good measure.
2019 was quite the banner year for young British actress Florence Pugh who gave us not only a scene-stealing Supporting performance as Amy in Greta Gerwig’s take on LITTLE WOMEN but with her work as Dani in MIDSOMMAR, she gave us a darker, brutal, drained, and emotional performance.
Pugh’s Dani is left in turmoil after her sister succeeds in killing herself and their parents via Carbon Monoxide poisoning. This emotional anguish is already adding stress to the troubled relationship with her boyfriend Christian…who had planned a secret trip with his friends to the ancestral commune of his Swedish friend Pelle called the Harga. After discovering the trip, he begrudgingly invites her even though he intended to break up with her right before leaving.
Not surprisingly, this idyllic commune turns out to be a cult that seeks to purge itself of any evil by sacrificing humans.
MIDSOMMAR is one of those movies that is going to polarize people, but even in the last year or so since it was released, it has already developed a more respected reputation.
I will actually be a tad surprised if it isn’t looked back on as a horror classic in a decade or so.
#9-THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO (Directed by Joe Talbot)
-Gentrification is a word that is highly problematic. In some ways, people like the possibilities of what it can provide…but it is also, at its core, a racist and harsh process that is another example of capitalist greed.
With all of the horrors going on in this country currently, a movie like THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO packs an extra punch.
When it was released in June 2019 (exactly one year before the peak of the BLACK LIVES MATTER protests that began to surge in the wake of the murder of George Floyd), this little gem of a film was mostly overlooked by the general public as is often the case for small independent films only grossing nearly $5 million against its $2 million budget.
I would seek out this movie if you are interested in seeing something that received great acclaim but was seen by very little people. It is currently on Amazon Prime so that is one option you have!
#8-US (Directed by Jordan Peele
SYNOPSIS: After having something of a bizarre encounter as a child that has stuck with her for years, Adelaide Wilson (Nyong’o) and her family, who are attacked by a group of menacing doppelgängers while on vacation at a semi-remote lakeside cabin.
-The Sophomore Outing. Many artistic endeavors often end up suffering with a “slump” in quality when compared to its predecessor whether it be the first film in a series or the first season of a television show. In the case of something like US, the second film of comedian turned horror film director/producer/writer Jordan Peele, you may have something that isn’t as strong as the first outing (2017’s iconic GET OUT) but is quite remarkable in its own right.
I do think a lot of what will help your experience with US is to know very little about its plot beyond the basic premise. It will definitely aid in your experience along the way.
I do want to express the tone of the movie in relation to GET OUT because I do feel that while this movie does have some genuinely comedic moments (in the dark comedy sense), it feels more like a traditional Horror film when compared to GET OUT.
I also have to give a shoutout to Lupita Nyong’o who was royally robbed of an Oscar nomination for her performance when she truly should’ve won the freaking thing. The results left us with one of the weakest Best Actress categories in recent memory in the wake of her snub along with great performances by the likes of Alfre Woodard (CLEMENCY), Adele Haenel, (PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE), Awkwafina (THE FAREWELL), and Florence Pugh (MIDSOMMAR).
#7-PAIN & GLORY (Directed by Pedro Almodovar)
SYNOPSIS: “Spanish film director Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) is having a mid-life crisis just as a newly remastered copy of his beloved film SABOR is getting a re-release. Based on the push of one his friends, he is encouraged to seek out people from his past to rekindle relationships and have reunions. Some of these reunions play out in real time, others are recalled through flashbacks: his childhood in the 1960s, when he moved with his family to the primitive village of Paterna, his schooling, his first adult love in Madrid in the 1980s, the pain of the breakup of this relationship, writing as a therapy to forget, the discovery of cinema, facing the impossibility of continuing filming, etc.”
-Pedro Almodovar is typically known as being a vibrant, potent, chaotic, and dark director when it comes to the tone of his films. I feel like PAIN & GLORY represents a rather lovely change of pace for him despite needing to stress that he has always been a magnificent filmmaker.
Some film lovers may notice a similarity in the plot that links it to Federico Fellini’s benchmark classic from 1963: 8 1/2 which was about an Italian filmmaker having a midlife crisis while battling with his wife, two mistresses, and a producer having trouble understanding his vision.
PAIN & GLORY certainly shares a lot of the same sentiments but it feels more delicate in its approach. It also contains a fantastic Oscar-worthy performance by Antonio Banderas, which is his best work to date. He carries this movie with such ease and grace that you can’t help but marvel at him.
Being in Spanish, you will have to endure subtitles so if that is something you have an aversion to….then that’s simply a shame as you are missing out on so many wonderful films.
To quote Bong Joon ho: “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”
#6-UNCUT GEMS (Directed by Benny & Josh Safdie)
-Every now and then, a movie comes along that has such a unique feel and energy that is unlike most films you typically come across. The Safdie Brothers (who seemingly may be on the path to being the next Coen Brothers) crafted a film that managed to have such a pulsating energy and tone that felt so vibrant and fresh.
A lot of what helps the film is the performance of Adam Sandler. This is a sentence I don’t think most people ever expected to say, even with his solid work in a movie like PUNCH DRUNK LOVE to back it up.
Sandler is a pretty much revelatory in this movie and was robbed of an Oscar nomination. His Howard is obnoxious and annoying and yet part of what is supposed to drive the movie is how much we are invested in him and want to see him succeed…and the fact they cast someone like Sandler in this part was a stroke of genius…and I am convinced the fact he got snubbed was due to the fact that he is simply Adam Sandler.
I actually hope Sandler will try to keep taking roles like this because he has proven he can handle a very complicated role and make us follow him all the way through without resorting to his cheap schtick that was already getting old by the late 90s.
#5-THE FAREWELL (Directed by Lulu Wang)
SYNOPSIS: Billi (Awkwafina) is an aspiring Chinese-American writer who just turned 30. After receiving a scholarship rejection, she learns from her parents that her grandmother (Nai Nai) is terminally ill and they all return to Changchun, China to be with her. However, they insist on not telling Nai Nai about her ilness which is a common belief in that culture which really upsets Billi who is having trouble adapting to life in China.
-Based on true events that happened to writer/director Lulu Wang (who was robbed of writing and directing Oscar nominations), THE FAREWELL was a quiet and beautiful little film that stuck with me long after finishing it.
A lot of the film’s success comes from the absolutely beautiful performance of Awkwafina, who is so touching and heartfelt as Billi and, for being the same age as her, I strongly connected to her character and how she was feeling which seems to be very apparent amongst Millennials currently.
Nai Nai, played by Chinese actress Zhao Shuzhen, became something of a beloved figure amongst film fanatics who adored her warm presence in the film and many were quite saddened when she failed to receive a significant amount of awards attention. While she wouldn’t have made my personal lineup, she was certainly more worthy than most of the actual Oscar nominees.
PARASITE might have won the top honor at the Oscars but it didn’t receive a single acting nomination…and it still seems like a massive hurdle not just for black actors to get nominated but any kind of person of color…especially if it is for a foreign performances. The Asian and Hispanic communities are particularly overlooked which is a travesty.
#4-KNIVES OUT (Directed by Rian Johnson)
SYNOPSIS: A modern whodunit, the film follows a master detective by the name of Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) investigating the patriarch’s death after a family gathering gone awry.
Rian Johnson followed up his somewhat erratically received work on THE LAST JEDI with a deliciously fun murder mystery that tips it hat to Agatha Christie but also gives it a fresh take to really spice it up for modern audiences.
There are a lot of movies from last year that I feel benefit from going in with as little knowledge as possible…and frankly, this film was marketed and promoted so well that I was actually surprised at how it progressed and how little the previews gave away.
I already used the word but I am going to repeat it again. This film is simply DELICIOUS. The script and direction are delicious, the ensemble is delicious, and the designs are delicious.
Daniel Craig might be a bit of a caricature as Benoit Blanc but he is a hell of a lot of fun as the “Foghorn Leghorn”-esque detective investigating the death of a prominent novelist on the night of his 85th birthday.
Even if you aren’t into murder mysteries, I think there is enough wit and suspense to grab you otherwise so I would highly recommend you check this one out. I was amazed I loved it as much as I did!
#3-THE LIGHTHOUSE (Directed by Robert Eggars)
SYNOPSIS: Ephraim Winslow and Thomas Wake (Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe) are two lighthouse keepers in the late 19th century who start to lose their sanity when a storm strands them on the remote island where they are stationed.
-Much like Ari Aster with MIDSOMMAR and Jordan Peele with US, Robert Eggars had his sophomore outing with THE LIGHTHOUSE…only despite the greatness of those other films, THE LIGHTHOUSE was the best of the bunch in many ways.
Robert Eggars’ first major film, THE WITCH from 2015, was one of the most unsettlng and disturbing films I had ever seen…so much so that I will probably never sit through it again…and yet, I love it for that reason.
THE LIGHTHOUSE manages to keep that tone but tones it down…however, it also feels like you are watching a dark Ingmar Bergman movie with shades of David Lynch at his most experimental.
Robert Pattison does a sterling job here proving that he will be able to shake the horror that was having to play Edward Cullen in the TWILIGHT movies and he holds his own against Willem Dafoe, who was simply fantastic in this and robbed of an Oscar nomination for what was a win-worthy performance.
THE LIGHTHOUSE is also a film I see myself revisiting again as it the unsettling nature isn’t as overbearing but it also has a sense of being a film where you want to analyze every second of it…especially the final scenes.
#2-PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE (Directed by Celine Sciamma)
SYNOPSIS: “Brittany, France, 1760. Marianne is commissioned to paint the wedding portrait of reluctant bride-to-be Héloïse under the guise of a hired companion. Observing Héloïse by day and discreetly interpreting her essence by night, their intimacy blossoms as the portrait progresses towards its inevitable completion.”
-At first glance, the French film PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE could be described as a CALL ME BY YOUR NAME with women set in 18th Century France.
There are certain similarities that are absolutely uncanny but the major difference is that CALL ME BY YOUR NAME was mostly overrated while PORTRAIT was a stunning masterpeice.
I don’t think I have seen a movie that looked quite as visually stunning as this one in terms of its setting, aesthetics, and cinematography…not to mention two exquisite performances from our leading ladies: Naomie Merlant and Adele Haenel, the latter whose final moments on screen are some of the best acting I have EVER seen in a film.
PORTRAIT has developed something of a following with film fanatics here in the States that I think will continue to grow over time primarily because it was mostly absent during awards season. France chose to push LES MISERABLES (no relation to the Victor Hugo work as it is based on the 2005 Paris Riots) which was better received in its native France than PORTRAIT and due to Oscar guidelines, only one foreign film per country could be submitted in the International Film category…and USA Distributor Neon also chose to put all of its promotional eggs into the basket of a film that will just so happen to be my #1 choice on this list so that unfairly hurt PORTAIT with a true chance to shine.
It is a slow moving film which won’t be helped for some who can’t stand the idea of reading subtitles (blah, blah, blah…), but it is simply a ravishing film and one that I truly hope will become a true classic as the years go by.
#1-PARASITE (Directed by Bong Joon ho)
SYNOPSIS: Link below to a spoiler-free review I wrote earlier this year.
-I went on and on about this movie to such an extent that I am sure some people were probably sick of my constant posts about it. The truth is simply this:
VERY FEW MOVIES HAVE EVER DRIVEN ME TO THAT KIND OF LEVEL OF FANDOM AS THIS ONE.
PARASITE feels like a movie that will truly be talked about for decades to come as a bonafide classic…and it might be my favorite movie to have come out since 2000. That is a very bold statement to make, but my response to the movie was potent and visceral. In the grand scheme, it might not be my choice for the best movie of the last two decades but it is certainly in consideration.
I am going to link up to my spoiler-free review here:
I would recommend reading this for a more in-depth look into my passion for the film and also for an idea of its synopsis without giving away the full plot.
I do intend to write a more detailed analysis of the film sometime soon (if I can get all my thoughts out onto paper) so be on the look out for that!
2019 was a very solid year for film and I think it will stand up as a very popular year for film fans in upcoming decades.
I think we are seeing something of a resurgence when it comes to quality original films and I hope that sticks as we still keep getting sequel after sequel and reboot after reboot.
I also think it’ll be interesting to see where the horror genre is going. Horror films have never been award show magnets but with the artsier tone that many have been taking in recent years (THE BABADOOK, IT FOLLOWS, HEREDITARY, THE WITCH, MIDSOMMAR, IT COMES AT NIGHT, VELVET BUZZSAW, GET OUT, US, and THE LIGHTOUSE…and even PARASITE a little bit…), I wouldn’t be shocked if some finally breakthrough with some major awards attention….but in the end, awards aren’t everything. We are talking about a major awards body (the Motion Picture Academy) that have rewarded the likes of CRASH and GREEN BOOK.