Favorite Films of 2019

Below are my Favorite Films of 2019. It must be noted that the list may change slightly if I happened to come across great movies I had missed prior to this post. The same rule applies to all of my annual Favorite Lists. In other words, my lists are updated continually. My hope is to provide alternative movies that are absolutely worth seeing that may not or will not necessarily appear on “Top Critics” picks. Underneath each picture is an excerpt from my review which can be found in the archive. In the meantime, dive in and, as always, feel welcome to let me know what you think.

The Standoff at Sparrow Creek
Henry Dunham

“Hypnotic, tense, and with numerous tricks up its sleeve, ‘The Standoff at Sparrow Creek’ tells the story of six members of a militia who gather at a warehouse following a gunman who opened fire at a police funeral. They realize that the perpetrator is among them given the fact that one of the automatic weapons in their stock is missing in addition to some grenades, bullets, and bulletproof vests. Going to the police as a group is not an option—it is certain that every one of them would get the blame. So it is up to Gannon (James Badge Dale), a former cop who specializes in extracting confessions, to determine which of his peers is the gunman (Chris Mulkey, Happy Anderson, Brian Geraghty, Robert Aramayo, Patrick Fischler). Put your seatbelts on.”

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Quentin Tarantino

“There comes a point in ‘Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood’ when more self-aware viewers will notice that it no longer matters where the plot goes because it is so damn entertaining. Whether writer-director Quentin Tarantino is placing a magnifying glass on his characters, the cars they drive, the clothes they wear, the brand of drinks and cigarettes consumed, the soundtrack caressing our eardrums, the curious decorations on walls… the film is an enveloping experience right from the get-go—daring to be as specific as possible to create a thoroughly convincing 1969 Los Angeles. And yet, as shown during the third act, it is not afraid to take on a pint of historical revisionism. At its best I was reminded of Robert Altman’s signature works, how he manages to attain a seemingly effortless synergy between his fascinating characters and the roles they play in the city of angels.”

Sam Mendes

“Like the characters, the environment also receives great attention. A particularly harrowing sequence involves Schofield and Blake entering a seemingly abandoned German bunker. There is heavy dust all around, rickety beds are invaded by rust, and walls wear random scribblings. Although the camera is constantly on the move, our eyes make it a habit to examine every corner. Is there an enemy soldier waiting in the shadows of that particular corner? When outdoors, it looks as though there is thick mud as far as the eyes could see. We notice flies feasting on corpses, both of man and animal. Rats scurry around from one buffet to another. We can almost taste the stink in the air. Dead bodies floating on water look real. Observe how white and bloated they are. Our protagonists must wade through the dead and climb on top of them in order to get on land. Here is a work that takes its time to get details, both in look and feeling, precisely right.”

The Farewell
Lulu Wang

“Amusing, bittersweet, and insightful in the most surprising ways, ‘The Farewell’ shows rather than tells how a specific Chinese family chooses to take on the challenge of preventing their matriarch from finding out that she is dying of lung cancer and has only a few months to live. Take any one scene from this beautifully layered story and one can tell immediately that it is based upon writer-director Lulu Wang’s personal experiences because there is almost always at least one detail on screen that is honest, painful, funny, and real—often all at once. The storytelling is such a joyous experience because it feels as though the work is free from the shackles of the usual plot contrivances. We simply wish to know these characters as people.”

The King
David Michôd

“Leave it to director David Michôd for pushing a more introspective take on a typical historical drama in which a person who does not wish to be king ends up with the throne, the crown, and every problem that comes with it. Based on several plays from William Shakespeare’s ‘Henriad,’ ‘The King’ stars Timothée Chalamet as Henry Prince of Wales (referred to as ‘Hal’ by those closest to him), the wayward son of King Henry IV of England (Ben Mendelsohn) who would rather drink all night, sleep all day, and spend time with muddy commoners than to learn the finer points of how to lead a kingdom. It is an inspired choice of casting because the performer knows precisely how to convey crippling loneliness, as he has shown in Luca Guadagnino’s sublime ‘Call Me by Your Name,’ and Hal is a subject plagued with this emotion from the moment he agrees to take on the responsibilities of a king.”

Little Women
Greta Gerwig

“Greta Gerwig’s retelling of ‘Little Women,’ based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott, made me realize how unconvincingly most families are portrayed in the movies. Here, notice how the March family are always touching each other, whether they are playing, providing comfort, fighting, or simply hanging about the house and discussing what it is they hope to achieve or become in the future. We get so comfortable in inhabiting their specific living space that eventually we know which comb, or doll, or dress belongs to which sister. And by the end of the film, we not only have a complete idea of their personalities and interests, we know what it is that they value as individuals—so we see beyond their words and actions as if looking through glass.”

Joon-ho Bong

“Joon-ho Bong’s black coffee comedy ‘Parasite’ is an effective social commentary on two fronts: the great lengths we are willing to go for money and how a few of us—no—how many of us would not even think twice to step on our fellow man just to be able to climb a little higher. But the film is first and foremost riotously, endlessly entertaining. It is savagely funny parts—particularly in how it portrays the privilege of the rich and the desperation of the poor right alongside one another—occasionally suspenseful in terms of deception piling on top of one another that we know something has got to give eventually, and at times quite sad in its accurate portrayal of indigence. Perhaps the system is designed so that in order for the rich to exist and flourish, others must live and die in poverty.”

Giant Little Ones
Keith Behrman

“Keith Behrman’s ‘Giant Littles Ones’ is not a reductive LGBTQ picture in which the main character simply learns to come to terms with his sexuality by the end of the story. While it does end on a hopeful note, the messages it imparts—about teenage sexuality, friendships, romantic feelings, and even one’s relationship with parents—are far more nuanced than mainstream films that just so happen to have queer elements in them. It is effective precisely because the characters we meet are specific, layered, and flawed. And, like real people, they do not always express what they feel or think even when situations demand that they do.”

Todd Phillips

“Todd Phillips’ ‘Joker’ stares directly into the dark well of a man’s misery and asks the viewers to endure a series of highly uncomfortable, humiliating, and desperate situations. Although there are sudden, gruesome violence and plenty of blame to go around—government corruption, systems in place designed to keep the poor longing and powerless while the rich remain thriving and in charge, the way we choose to treat our neighbors—it trusts the audience to find empathy and compassion toward a person whose life is not without laughter but utterly, cripplingly devoid of joy. It is most appropriate that we meet Arthur Fleck, a clown by day and an aspiring standup comedian at night, from behind as he faces a mirror. Because in order to understand him, even appreciate him, we are required to take a look at ourselves.”

Julius Onah

“Julius Onah’s ‘Luce’ is like a nesting doll. Just when you think you know what it is about and have it all figured out, it gives birth to another layer worth putting under a microscope. It possesses a keen understanding of human psychology and behavior, particularly the social contracts between parent and child; students and teachers; and peers who wish to maintain or improve their status. In its core, it is a drama. But it is told like a thriller. What results is a picture that commands utmost urgency. Every word counts. A certain look or deafening silence functions like a fire alarm. We find ourselves evaluating who knows what and precisely how much. We must think like the subjects in order to have a thorough understanding of them.”

11 replies »

  1. Good to see you got your list up! i hadn’t even heard of Standoff at Sparrow Creek until I saw your list; so, I just watched it and thought it was pretty good. I was glad to see it had such little violence and focused more on mystery and suspense; my biggest complaint was I had a hard time at times understanding what was going on b/c it was so dark, but it wasn’t a big deal. It’s one of those films you need to give a second viewing to better understand everything that unfolded…

    For some reason Just A Time in Hollywood just doesn’t interest me; i may put it on for a few minutes though and give it a try to see if it holds my interest. Same thing w/ The King…

    I liked Joker, Luce and 1917 a lot.

    • That’s what I loved about “Standoff.” It’s so spare but efficient. And it really forces the viewers–in how it looks, how it sounds–to really pay attention to what’s going it. It inspires the desire to see, to steal a phrase from the great Agnes Varda. Glad you liked it.

  2. okay, so I wasn’t digging Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, and turned it off after about 20 minutes b/c it just wasn’t interesting to me at all. I read some reviews and it seemed consistent that everyone either loved it and gave it a 10 – or hated it and gave it a 1. lol. I didn’t think it was a 1 or anything, as I could see it was well directed, but it felt much more like a homage to old-school Hollywood than an actual plot, and honestly Leo’s accent felt forced and fake…

    Leo has a good screen presence, but he overacts; he’s not as strong of an actor as he is credited for. I am not saying he isn’t talented or shouldn’t be cast, b/c he absolutely should get roles, but what I am saying is his talent is overrated. Watch him in Revolutionary Road alongside Michael Shannon in those two scenes, and you really see how inferior Leo’s talent is alongside a powerhouse actor like Michael Shannon, who I think is actually underrated. When Leo and Michael are going at each other observe how natural Shannon’s performance feels – and then notice how much Leo is overacting by just shouting until his face turns red; shouting doesn’t necessarily make you convincing; it’s the subtle micro expressions and mannerisms that make a great actor stand out, and Leo doesn’t usually pull that off…

    And I wasn’t interested in “The King” but went ahead and gave it a chance since you spoke so highly of it, and it had the opposite affect than OUATIH. I was engaged from the start and interested to see what happened next. And I thought the reveal at the end was surprising, and the ending left me wanting more. Timothee Chalamet has a very strong screen presence, and acts with his eyes, which is how an actor is supposed to emote. I think he’s a stronger actor than Leo, and that will be proven over time. Don’t ban me from your blog for saying Leo is overrated! lol.

    • I cannot believe you turned the movie off after about 20 minutes. It gets better and better each passing scene. Needless to say, you missed out. At the same time, that’s your taste and I respect that.

      I disagree with you completely about DiCaprio’s acting. The man can deliver various modes of high intensity that it’s fascinating to watch. Maybe it’s, again, a taste thing but I love watching the most minute expressions on his face and try to decipher what it is that his character is feeling or thinking. Shannon is also a great actor. They have similar strengths: wringing out every emotion in every second.

      Consider: In this movie, shouldn’t DiCaprio BE overacting because of his character’s desperation?

      • i’m not sure; maybe. I do like Leo and think he is a good actor and has a strong screen presence. I just don’t think he’s nearly as talented as many of the other top actors, and is overrated. he does make a lot of good movies, and i think that increases people’s perception of his actual acting ability. I do think he was great in The Departed, and deserved praise for that performance.

        • Hey, you know, sometimes an actor is just not one’s cup of tea. I’m like that with certain actors like Gwyneth Paltrow, Katherine Heigl… Johnny Depp lately.

  3. And as far as “Parasite” winning best picture AND best director over “1917” or “Joker” I thought was a bust. I’m glad to see asian cinema get some acclaim and recognition from the Academy, but the last act of Parasite was cartoonish and out of place, inconsistent from the first two acts, and that ruined it for me, although I still “liked” the movie overall; i just didn’t love it, as maybe I would have had the 3rd act not become so unraveled. I wanted Joker to win, but I understood why 1917 would have, so I was okay with that, as 1917 was so well shot and directed; it’s just the last act of Joker will go down in cinema history and be remembered in 50 years from now the same way people remember Taxi Driver…

    But “Parasite” although a good film didn’t have any memorable moments; like what one moment or one line will be talked about in 50 years? Or even 2 years? Even now, there’s not a particular moment that grabbed you, but Joker had a few moments like that, which is the sign of a film worthy to win an Oscar for best film of the year. BUT as long as they gave the Oscar to Phoenix for Best Actor for Joker, I can forgive them for not giving Joker Best Film; especially b/c it was cool to see an Asian film win, I just wish it had been for a stronger asian film. But since the Academy gave Parasite Best Film, they really should have given Best Director to Mendes for 1917, which I think just about any film buff would agree deserved it over the other nominees. What a masterful piece of directing that was…

    Since you loved Parasite so much you probably want to argue with me, but you’re torn b/c you agree with me about 1917 and Joker, as well. lol. So, I guess it’s a win for you all across the board! :) I’m kind of surprised “Luce” didn’t get any kind of recognition. I thought the kid who played Luce was excellent, as he gave me creepy vibes in certain moments, and Octavia Spencer maybe could have been give a nomination, as she was great, as well.

    • Okay, some time has passed since “Parasite”‘s Best Picture win. I think it deserved the win over “Joker” but not “1917.” Having said that, I was wondering if you’ve seen a lot of South Korean mystery-thrillers? I notice that SK movies under those genres tend to have an atonal (often humorous) quality to them. I share similar sentiments as you. I’m not (often) a fan of tone that varies so wildly as if to threaten to derail the movie altogether. But, to me, it works because the picture is also a satire.

      Good point about memorable moments regarding “Joker” and “Parasite.” I will remember “Joker” with more immediacy, especially that scene in the end… You know what I’m talking about. That “Whoa!” moment. You know.

      For me, the more I watch movies and the more I hear about who won at the Oscars and whatnot, the less I care about award shows. lol. If my favorites win, FANTASTIC. If not, doesn’t make them any less great in my eyes. Maybe there’s bigger things to worry about in life? Hahaha. I don’t know. I guess I would have a bigger reaction when something like “Crash” vs “Brokeback Mountain” happens again. I hope not!

      …Will there even be Oscars next year? I feel like half of 2020 is over and not one new movie has a made an impression on me. Oh well.

      • i completely agree about the award ceremonies. Yeah, i guess 2020 isn’t going to be a good year for movies; but hopefully things improve in the next few months, and if so maybe we will have a strong Award Season; or maybe we just have to wait until 2021; but regardless the important thing obviously is helping get things back on track in general. And hey, this is a great time to catch-up on older movies you haven’t seen yet. So, your top list of 2020 may just have to be films you watched of any year in 2020. lol.

        • Yeah, for sure. Priority is getting back on track. I’m not that confident about us not getting a second wave, given the history of pandemics, but I’m hoping for the best.

Feel free to leave a comment.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.