Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Nine Best Films of 2019

Family was a strong theme in many of my favorite films of 2019. My list includes some famous directors, one super-hero, secrets, mystery and deception, strong ensembles, the search for the truth, and the horrors of war and divorce. Tying for an honorable mention (I couldn't decide on which to include as #10 on the list) are the equally good, yet very different, Dolemite is My Name and Motherless Brooklyn. Without further ado, it is time to count down the nine best movies of 2019.

Bounty Law

Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood television review

Quentin Tarantino's latest film about events in 1969 Hollywood may get a little away from him at the end, but Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood features great performances from the likes of Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, and Leonardo DiCaprio and more than a few memorable movie moments (Robbie in the theater and DiCaprio's emotional sequence in a throwaway guest-role as villain of the week, to name two). It may not rank among the director's best, but it's certainly better than some of the more recent entries into his filmography. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is available on home video. Read the full review.

Secrets and Lies

The Farewell movie review

Based on true events, writer/director Lulu Wang delivers a personal story of a Chinese family deciding to hide the fact from its matriarch (Shuzhen Zhao) that she has been diagnosed with cancer. Instead, a family marriage provides the excuse for the relatives to come together and say their farewells including Chinese-American granddaughter Billi (Awkwafina) who struggles with the family's decision. Dramatic and touching, for a movie about saying goodbye The Farewell is also surprisingly uplifting. The Farewell is currently available on home video. Read the full review.

The Big Red Cheese

SHAZAM! movie review

The only comic book movie to make this year's list, SHAZAM! brings one of the oldest super-heroes to the big screen for the first time since the black-and-white serials of the 1940s. The film pits orphaned Billy Batson (Asher Angel), who is given the powers of the gods (turning into Zachary Levi) when saying the name of a powerful wizard (Djimon Hounsou), against the obsessed Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong). Bright, funny, touching, and a hell of a lot of fun, SHAZAM! was the pleasant surprise fans tired of DC's darker themes were ecstatic to embrace. Ironically, DC's best non-Batman film was one they decided wouldn't take place within its shared cinematic universe. Both a critical and box office success, the character I will always refer to as Captain Marvel will return for at least one sequel. SHAZAM! is available on home video. Read the full review.

The Whistleblower

Official Secrets movie review

One of the common themes 2019 were films that focused on the true stories of uncovering the truth of government or corporate wrongdoing. The best of these was Official Secrets which starred Keira Knightley as a translator for British intelligence who revealed classified information to the world about her country's willingness to help the United States spy and blackmail other countries for support on the impending war in Iraq. Director Gavin Hood's film showcases both the struggle over the decision and the following year of turmoil after the leak while revealing disturbing truths and petty retaliation by the government she exposed. Official Secrets is currently available on home video. Read the full review.

I Needed My Own Asshole

Marriage Story movie review

Writer/director Noah Baumbach examines the dissolving marriage between a couple (Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson) whose time together is nearing its end. Baumbach's story is surprisingly funny, especially when examining the subject of divorce lawyers, while providing plenty of opportunity to delve into the pain and resentment on both sides. Marriage Story is currently available on Netflix. Read the full review.

A Hive of Scum and Villainy

Parasite movie review

Writer/director Bong Joon Ho's thriller follows a family of con artists who, one-by-one, work their way into the lives of a wealthy couple through a series of lies and manipulations. After an extended set-up, tension builds in second-half of the film as discoveries and choices are made which lead to the film's explosive climax. Adapting the theme of class warfare on a micro-scale of two families, Parasite is fascinating to watch unfold. Parasite is currently playing in theaters. Read the full review.

I Heard You Paint Houses

The Irishman movie review

Martin Scorsese is one of the most accomplished living American directors, but he surprised me with The Irishman. A quieter, more introspective film than we've seen from Scorsese in many years, the director reassembles some familiar faces in Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci (who delivers the most unexpected performance of his entire career) and then throws in Al Pacino (who somehow had never worked with Scorsese before this film) to examine the life of die-hard union man and mob hitman Frank Sheeran (De Niro). While its length and pace may be a problem for some (those who were able to see in in theaters in a limited release before its Netflix run tend to have more appreciation from the film), The Irishman delivers plenty of rewards for those patient enough to receive them. The Irishman is currently available on Netflix. Read the full review.

The War to End All Wars

1917 movie review

1917 is an amazing piece of filmmaking that I didn't know Sam Mendes was capable of. Gloriously shot by Richard Deakins, the film follows two soldiers (George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman) on a suicide mission across enemy lines to warn of an impending ambush by the German Army. Chosen as the Kansas City Film Critics' Best Film of the Year, 1917 is a tense drama that avoids the usual war movie cliches and delivers a very personal movie in the middle of the the largest war the world had ever seen. 1917 is currently in limited release (and, as with The Irishman, I'd recommend seeing it on the big screen if possible). Read the full review.

The Best Film of 2019

Knives Out movie review

Death is easy, comedy is hard. Knives Out handles both with aplomb. While one could argue Knives Out isn't as obvious a cinematic achievement as 1917, it's equally well-made with the added bonus being more accessible with a higher rewatchability. In the month since its release I have already returned to it multiple times, with several to follow in the future. Writer/director Rian Johnson provides an old fashioned whodunit with a modern twist when the patriarch (Christopher Plummer) of a wealthy family dies under suspicious circumstances. Overflowing with wit, charm, and droll humor, Johnson assembles a stellar cast to (Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Chris Evans, Don Johnson, Katherine Langford, Michael Shannon, Jaeden Martell, and Riki Lindhome) in a perfectly-designed setting to explore just what really happened on that fateful night. Knives Out is currently in theaters. Read the full review.

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