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10. Her Smell
I knew next to nothing going into Her Smell, and I think I probably had the best time for it. So, I will be succinct in my praise and obtuse in my description.
“I don't apologize Fuck it, I didn't need to see this through I'm back, back to the same shit I was drowning in it If I'm gonna be pulled down Then I'm taking you with”
This. This is what both the film and the enigmatic Becky Something (a sold-out performance by Elizabeth Moss) and her bandmates, Something She, promise the viewer. The droning chaos of backstage punk-rock life is a living, breathing thing. That chaos incubates us as we wander down hallways and move throughout the different ventricles and atriums of this bleeding/beating heart of a film. It’s so overwhelmingly punk, distractingly confident, and femininely honest that it breaks your heart. And the soundtrack kicks fucking ass. Come for the Dirty Dan (Dan Stevens in leather jackets galore, swoon), stay for Becky’s transformation from Becky Something into Becky Someone.
9. Marriage Story
Despite the fact that Marriage Story is so heavy that I may not be able to watch it again for some time, it had to make my top movie list for 2019. Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver play a New York couple undergoing a divorce in California. They are fighting for child custody over their young son, Henry. The movie has an amazing all-star cast; Scarlet Johansson’s lawyer is played by Laura Dern, and Adam Driver’s lawyer is played by Alan Alda. The courtroom scenes are intense and uncomfortable; the lawyers ruthlessly bring up personal attacks against each former spouse in an attempt to win the judge’s sympathy (similar to the misconstrued courtroom attacks seen in Kramer vs Kramer). With painful fights, and perhaps even more intense silences, the entire cast of Marriage Story gives phenomenal performances in this emotional rollercoaster.
8. The Irishman
At this point, watching Martin Scorsese make a movie about the mafia is like watching BB King play blues guitar, hearing David Attenborough narrate, or seeing LeBron dunk on somebody’s head. It's as close as we’ll experience to human perfection. I know some viewers who were disappointed with this movie, and a lot I know did it all in one sitting. If you’re trying this movie for the first time be aware that it's over three hours long. I did it in two separate sittings and I absolutely loved it. But it's a looking glass into what was thought to be a long dead mystery. One that endeavors to show the entire story as truthfully as could be in a crime drama. I think it’s one of Pacino’s best performances which is saying a hell of a lot. It’s also Pacino and Scorsese’s first ever collaboration. Certainly worth an extensive run time.
7. Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood
You know, I didn’t expect that I would have two movies two years in a row about cultists getting their asses kicked as my number one. What does that say about me? Who knows! What I do know is that Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood is Tarantino at his most sincere, at his most mature, and at his best since Inglourious Basterds. The film is a love letter to many things. It’s a love letter to a time both gone by and a time that never existed. It’s a love letter to lives lived and lives never existed. It’s a constant conversation of fiction and reality, reckoning with the past, what could have been, and what never happened. It’s a beautiful and soulful film. It’s the film I’ve revisited the most out of any others this year, and it brings me joy to see even an egomaniacal director like Tarantino grow and mature as a filmmaker and a storyteller.
Midsommar asks the question: What if you had no one to support you in your grief, not even yourself? Florence Pugh's Dani, is in a constant spiral from the film’s phenomenally executed opening scenes. They lead her to make choices that she doesn't feel fully comfortable with, all in an attempt to regain some stability. In a world where she has been literally orphaned, she then (sort of) intentionally disconnects herself, retreating on a “boys trip,” with her fart-head boyfriend, Christian, and his college buddies. Midsommar is a lot of things: an eerily bright folk-horror and an examination of toxic relationships and the allure of codependency. But most interestingly, it is a story about a woman who has lost everything, maybe even herself, who is desperately trying to grab hold of the only things she thinks matter, only to have those things abuse and manipulate her into a state of even worse existential crisis. The movie is well-crafted, and contains some of the best jokes and cringe-worthy moments of the year, and it is easily the one movie on this list that I can see myself returning to often, whenever I'm in need of a good movie with a bad mood.
5. Honey Boy
From Even Stevens to his reckless days in avant-garde art installations, to his recent fascinating interview on Hot Ones, Shia LaBeouf has always felt more like an enigmatic character than a traditional actor. Honey Boy is an unflinchingly earnest movie that instantly made everything about that character click, and revealed the deeply flawed and genuine human underneath. I won’t lie to you, dear reader, this movie left me a bleary-eyed weeping mess. Without any context: Alma Har’el’s Honey Boy is a beautiful movie with knockout performances by Noah Jupe, Lucas Hedges and Shia LaBeouf. With the added knowledge that LaBeouf wrote the script while attending court ordered rehab as a way to work through the trauma of his own childhood, Honey Boy is a fearless and truly special film.
4. The Farewell
This movie completely came out of left field for me. Awkwafina man. Damn. I did not expect the hilarious and animated rapper/actor from films like Crazy Rich Asians and Ocean’s 8 to floor me with such a bittersweet dramatic performance. While I am ecstatic that she received a Golden Globe for her performance as lead actress in Lulu Wang’s film, I am infuriated that she did not receive an Oscar nomination. Awkwafina plays Billi, a Chinese-American who returns to China with her family to visit her Nai Nai (played by the charming Shuzhen Zhao), after the family has learned that the grandmother has terminal cancer. The caveat is that no one tells the grandmother her diagnosis. They play along with the charade that the family is gathered together for a young cousin’s wedding reception. Billi struggles the most with this decision, and she questions the motives of her family and a culture that would go along with it. This film is just as much about the conflict of cultural norms as it is about grieving the people we love. By the end of the film you may question your own opinions about how best to handle old age and death. I know I did.
3. Uncut Gems
Danny J. Sanchez takes pictures of the inside of opals. When you go to his website (dannyjsanchez.com) you can see that these photos look almost like they’re from another galaxy, as if through a telescope he was able to take pictures of interstellar wisps and dancing celestial bodies. But no, these images are found on earth, captured by looking through one gem and seeing through to the other side; it’s like seeing what hundreds of years look like, condensed in a reflection. These images by Danny J. Sanchez inspired the intro sequence of Uncut Gems, as we travel from Ethiopian miners to New York City, all through the opal super highway. Uncut Gems is like seeing a slice of someone's history, specifically jeweler Howard Ratner, played by Adam Sandler. I think the film is brilliant, and somehow, Adam Sandler, who I would’ve thought is the least likely human being to do such a thing, carries the entire film on his performance’s shoulders. The film’s premise is conventional, it’s a bit of a crime drama, a lot of risk and reward, betting and dealing, lying and stealing, but the housing for this story is anything but conventional. The score by Daniel Lopatin, feels more in line with what I described before. If the universe had intergalactic angels who could also get down with jazz, this is what they would sing. The aesthetic of the film feels gilded and pristine on the outside, but beneath it’s something rusty, maybe even a bit dirty. Howie’s whole scheme is that he flips things: he moves assets, he makes sales, he owns golden “ferbs,” and he wants to win. He might be a rich man, but who knows, money moves so quickly towards and away from him, it doesn’t seem to matter. But what he has to show for being a master schemer, a master liar, is a lot: huge Long Island home, beautiful New York City penthouse, nice Mercedes, but all of it isn’t real, it can all be taken away. The Safdie Brothers have created something inspired by films before it, but wholly unique in the way it is assembled. The film has a mood and vibe to it unlike any film I’ve seen all year. There are so many elements of the film that on paper should not jive together at all, but they all do, and it’s wonderful. In the midst of all these art house techniques, the energy of the scenes range from MANIC to DESPERATE. Characters yell and scream at each other, most scenes feature five to ten people shouting at each other all at once. It all works though. I wouldn’t believe a film like this could exist if I hadn’t already watched it (twice). Uncut Gems takes place within the Opal, it passes through its gems like a reflection, in and out, just as the light of time always has.
2. The Lighthouse
There’s really not much to be said about The Lighthouse. (Just kidding, there are a million things to be said about The Lighthouse.) But at the end of the long, long night, The Lighthouse is more of a feeling than anything. It’s the act of running from the past to try one’s hand at a new life. It’s a humble devotion to a life’s work that begins to crumble. It’s the thought, “Did I turn the oven off?” It’s realizing that all the minutiae of your own paranoia can be multiplied ten-fold. And it’s all the more beautiful and haunting for it. A mythic story about two men (Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson) battling turbulent weather and deteriorating psyches over the course of, possibly, an eternity, The Lighthouse is a work of art. Told completely through the stark chiaroscuro of black and white tones, The Lighthouse is a Rorschach test for your sanity.
Your life is a wick, that you incessantly tend to, hoping that you’ve done enough to ease the passage of others around your murky shores. What Eggers achieves with The Lighthouse is otherworldly. His understanding of composition in storytelling is an extraordinary gift, and yet, for as beautiful and intoxicating this film is, it’s also absurdly funny. Turns out watching two men go mad is rife with poetic humor. Or perhaps I went a little mad myself. It’s hard to tell when one becomes a wickie. How long have I been writing this list?
Bong Joon Ho blew it out of the water in 2019. I am ready to go on the record and say that this film deserves an Oscar for Best Film. Not Best International Film. Best Film. Period. No other movie surprised and devastated me as much as Parasite did in 2019. It was so very stressful, uncomfortable yet funny, engaging, and so very sad. One by one, the members of the Kim family slowly infiltrate the lives of the wealthy Park family. But just when you think you know what is going to happen, Joon Ho really pulls the rug out from under you. The entire cast is excellent, but the family of con artists (played by Choi Woo-shik, Song Kang-ho, Jang Hye-jin, and Park So-dam) are each incredibly likeable and compelling in their own way. While the film could have ended in fantasy with a happy “what if” moment, Joon Ho opts for bleakness. The disparity of wealth between these characters controls and dictates their every action, and it is brutal.