Top Ten Films of 2019
It’s been another year of medium to low expectations with regards to film, so it was easy to not be disappointed. On the other hand, there were plenty of surprises and as long as cinemas are open, I will find an excuse to continue to visit at least once a month. Here’s the best of what I saw in 2019:
1) Booksmart – Think Superbad, but with female leads…….and LBGTQ friendly…….and people of color…..and more poignant…..and funnier……on second thought…… Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut is an absolute gem about a pair of overachievers (Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever in star-making performances) looking for one last hurrah the night before graduation. I will not spoil any further surprises. See Booksmart ASAP.
2) Parasite – Class warfare has never been more scathingly witty and bloodily executed since Snowpiercer, fittingly from the same prolific director Bong Joon Ho. Think Down and Out in Beverly Hills meets Single White Female to the nth degree as we watch the underprivileged Ki-taek clan methodically infuse themselves into the opulent home of the affluent Parks. What ensues is an enthralling high stakes game of “How Far Would You Go to Survive?” building up to a shocking climax.
3) John Wick 3: Parabellum – In the best action film since Mad Max: Fury Road, Keanu Reeves has plenty of tricks left up his sleeves as our titular hero trying to survive despite a worldwide contract on his head from the previous film. The usual smooth players like Ian McShane and Lance Reddick are joined by Anjelica Houston, Asia Kate Dillon, Mark Dacascos, and Halle Berry in a wonderfully fleshed-out world of assassins, codes, and non-stop superbly choreographed thrills.
4) Blinded by The Light – In a vibrant blend of Sing Street meets Bend It Like Beckham, we get a truly inspirational tale of a Pakistani teen growing up in 1980’s Great Britain and finding purpose in the music and lyrics of The Boss. While many found the film conventional, I found it timely in its’ depiction of immigrants trying to make the best of their opportunities despite the endless challenges as well as a reminder of the power of music, any good music, to transport us to another world and embolden us in this one.
5) The Farewell – Writer/Director Lulu Wang delivered a touching family drama with plenty of laughs and more than a few Kleenex moments. Based on her own experience, the film depicts what happens when the matriarch of a Chinese family is diagnosed with terminal cancer- but not told by the family. Instead, the family throws together a hasty wedding as an excuse to gather the whole family for one last time to spend fleeting time with their “Nai Nai.” The cast is uniformly excellent but Awkwafina is a revelation as a Chinese American at the crossroads between two cultures emotionally dying in the face of this family’s charade.
6) Us – Despite a badly telegraphed “twist” ending, writer-director Jordan Peele continues to put his mark on the modern world of horror. Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke anchor Peele’s latest scare fest as parents trying to fight their own worst enemies: a family of doppelgangers. The first hour is near perfection and while the film sputters to the obvious finale it’s still hard to deny Peele’s ambitious brand of filmmaking.
7) Dolemite Is My Name – In his first film in over three years, Eddie Murphy returns to form with his finest work since Bowfinger. Director Craig Brewer and writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski bring the colorful life of underground comedian/hustler Rudy Ray Moore to life in all of its foul-mouthed glory. The film is a testament to outsiders and the enduring spirit of guerrilla filmmaking ala Ed Wood. The buoyant supporting cast is highlighted by Wesley Snipes as an incredulous D’Urville Martin who specializes in eye rolling and Da’Vine Joy Randolph as the humbling Lady Reed who epitomizes swagger and heart in a film bursting with both.
8) Western Stars- Part concert film, part tone poem, part religious experience this a must see not only for lifelong Bruce Springsteen fans but any music fan. We, as filmgoers, get a backstage pass not only to the creation of Springsteen’s latest, and maybe most ambitious, album but an up-close look into the soul of one of the greatest song writers and rock musicians ever. Additionally, watching The Boss duet with wife Patti Scialfa on the track “Stones” may be more passionate and touching than any love scene you have seen in a while.
9) Captain Marvel – Another year, another Marvel Films breakthrough with filmmakers Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck successfully bringing Carol Danvers to the screen in all of her colorful and empowering glory. Brie Larson is a revelation as the storied Navy test pilot turned intergalactic savior and Samuel L. Jackson enjoys his best and most layered turn as a younger Nick Fury along for the ride. The 90’s soundtrack was bit over the top for my taste but otherwise this is the kind of crowd pleasing and inspiring adventure I was I could have seen as a lad.
10) Gloria Bell – If you didn’t already know it, Julianne Moore is one of the best actors around: period. If you need a refresher, please watch her own every scene in this realistically romantic tale. As the title character, Moore inhabits the film’s faded Los Angeles landscape as a 50’s divorcee looking for love and enlightenment on any available dance club floor. The cast is uniformly excellent, but John Turturro is equally engaging as a potential knight in shining armor.