Not that anyone has asked, but I was about to send this to my brother and thought, why not just share with everyone?
For the record, I LOVED a lot of films this past year. It was a wonderful year for film, film-makers, and cinematic art. Get your butts in the seats and catch more movies, and stream when they come to your preferred service!
Special shout-out to “A Hidden Life” which just missed the cut for this list. Malick’s latest is a masterpiece, and there’s a beauty in that film that’s exceptional. See it. Soon.
5) Uncut Gems – At first I was annoyed. Adam Sandler is Howard, a barely likable NY City Jeweler with a big gambling problem. That’s not true. He’s not likable at all. He’s cheating on his wife, gambling with expensive fine items that don’t belong to him, and pissing off everyone in his life. But there’s one obsession that drives Howard, and the film, and elevates our experience for the entire 2-hour run: The uncut gemstone he’s smuggled into the country, and that now temporarily sits in the possession of basketball star Kevin Garnett (who is surprisingly GREAT in the film). The treat to this tale is discovering that, despite how gross you may find Howard to be, you can’t look away because the next big score has potential to get him out of the current spiral of disaster… but after that, there’s another score around the corner, and another, and another…
The Safdie brothers are film-makers who have found a way to pop kinetic energy on the screen surrounding characters you love to hate, and this movie has Sandler’s best performance — the outrage over his lack of nomination is real, and deserved. And the score adds a layer of mysticism and a universe of possibilities that, as a creative person, is inspiring.
4) Les Misérables (2019) – Don’t let the title catch you off guard, this is not a musical or an adaptation of the novel. This is a glorious film about a special crimes division of cops in an impoverished suburb outside of Paris. The day-in-the-life plot begins as Stéphane begins his first day as a transfer into the SCU, an anti-crime police division. He learns the the power structure of the neighborhood locals while balancing the means to an end within the limits of the law. When Stéphane and the two cops are caught on-camera firing anti-riot guns at a group of kids amid a confusing, amped up arrest, all hell breaks loose.
I went into this film without seeing the trailer, not knowing what to expect, and was floored to the very last frame. If you’re a fan of “City of God”, then you will love “Les Misérables”.
3) Knives Out – As a whodunnit, “Knives Out” is pretty straight-forward, but that’s the fun of this flick. It’s fun, unpredictable, and a joy to watch because it was a joy to make. Daniel Craig is absolutely delightful as Benoit Blanc, a cajun investigator brought to a rich manor to peel back the truth about the death of a millionaire patriarch. Hijinks and discoveries ensue, and like a fine onion the layers of this family’s secrets are revealed, and no one is safe from the judgments and discoveries.
It’s no surprise that there’s already a sequel in the works from writer/director Rian Johnson. As far as a fun time at the movies, you can’t go wrong with “Knives Out”.
2) Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood – My favorite Tarantino movie is “Inglourious Basterds”, which is a masterpiece, but this would be a close second. There’s a simple joy in watching a movie with smart dialogue that highlights the most familiar aspects of a film-maker’s career. Some say Tarantino simply recycles himself, but there’s nothing wrong with a creator sticking to what works, and exploring those artistic strengths in fresh settings with a multitude of characters. Tarantino loves old films and television, a history-buff when it comes to hold Hollywood, and it shows. There’s a romanticized glamour that comes from memories and pictures and films from Hollywood pre-1970s, and what Tarantino does is rip at the edges of that glamour to show the hints of what’s to come, the dangers of romanticizing the past, and the importance of the fantasy veneer.
1) Parasite – No other film last year is as well-orchestrated or executed than “Parasite”. Every 15 minutes there’s a new turn, not so much a twist as an adjustment, a re-calibration of how we are perceiving events. A family awash in poverty, pushing to make ends meet by folding pizza boxes and climbing toilets to snag free wi-fi, insert themselves into the lives of a rich family. Slowly, the poor folks assume fake identities to grab the reins, but their own views on status change from admonishing the rich, to admiring them.
There’s an incredible balance of humor, suspense, and, by the end, heart-breaking drama and trauma that are deftly handled by director Bong Joon Ho. It’s truly mesmerizing to watch this film and feel your brain “gasp” when new characters are revealed, and the plot swivels tonally to emotions completely unexpected. When people talk about movies being a roller-coaster ride, “Parasite” serves as a prime example.
Other films I loved from 2019 (in no particular order):
The Peanut Butter Falcon
Blinded by the Light