Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: Best of 2019: The 13 Best Films of the Year

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Best of 2019: The 13 Best Films of the Year

by Tony Dayoub

It's Oscar Day! No predictions. Here, for your consideration, are my top films of 2019 followed by the winners of the respective polls I participated in.

1. Parasite, directed by Bong Joon Ho - This is what we need more of here in the US, smart films with extremely original plots that comment on our society. I love action movies and even superhero flicks as much as the next guy. In fact, I'm probably predisposed to find them appealing because that was my way into film. Bong's Parasite, like all of his movies, represents what I value most about cinema, though: its ability to show me an outside perspective, clue me into a different culture, and speak to important themes--in this case, extreme class differences-- in an entertaining yet illuminating way. Sure to win the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, I'm hoping the good will so evident for this South Korean film will lead it to an upset in tonight's Best Picture category as well.

2. The Lighthouse, dir. Robert Eggers - Like his previous film, The Witch, so much of The Lighthouse's atmospherics depend not only on ambient sound but the stylized, near accurate, period dialogue. Where it diverges is Eggers decision to amp up the tension in a series of stagy two-handers, as performed by the dynamic team of the relatively young movie star Robert Pattinson and the grizzled veteran character actor, Willem Dafoe. The dynamic created by one man living in the present and one man dwelling in the past informs the story. But which man is really doing what?

3. Midsommar, dir. Ari Aster - Like Aster's last film, Hereditary, Midsommar makes my list on sheer originality and expert execution. You've never seen any horror movie quite like this one, even with its prodigious references to another slow-burn pagan creepfest, 1973's The Wicker Man. The main difference is its injection of a #MeToo sensibility into the bat-shit proceedings. There's a longer version out there that I have yet to see, but it's likely to be even more effective. Midsommar is the rare horror film that benefits from a longer run time as Aster incrementally builds the eerie suspense to a strangulating crescendo.

4. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, dir. Marielle Heller - Despite the ubiquity of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood in my childhood, I hardly hold any nostalgia for the infantile PBS show. However, this film and the recent documentary, Won't You Be My Neighbor?, have both inspired my respect for their subject, Fred Rogers. Heller's gentle film is a profound meditation on kindness and its underestimated effect on not just impressionable children but broken adults as well.

5. 1917, dir. Sam Mendes - Strip away its gimmick (the film is actually two takes long, not one), and this is a rather conventional story of a knight on an errant quest. Yet, if for nothing else, 1917 is worthy of consideration for its exhilarating night sequence, as its protagonist dashes through ruins to dodge gunfire under the blazing, intermittent light of enemy flares. This setpiece makes it very hard to deny that Roger Deakins' cinematography is glorious, especially when married to Thomas Newman's score. Newman is up against cousin Randy (Marriage Story) for the Best Original Score Oscar, but I know who I'm rooting for.

6. The Farewell, dir. Lulu Wang - Real... that is all I have to say about The Farewell. It feels real. It is very infrequent that one feels like they are peering through a peephole into someone's life. The Farewell is one of those occasions. Awkwafina wins just by suppressing her often overwhelming personality in service to the story. The actual star performance here is Zhao Shuzhen's as Awkwafina's grandmother. Awkwafina and her family are following the cultural expectation of protecting their vibrant and life-affirming elder from learning of a terminal diagnosis. Both Wang's movie and Shuzhen won Independent Spirit awards last night, while The Farewell received not a one nomination, a criminal slight by the Academy if there's ever been one.

7. Uncut Gems, dirs. Josh and Benny Safdie - Exhausting, frustrating, and accelerative, Uncut Gems is relentless in its dealing reversals to Adam Sandler's Howard, a Diamond District jeweler and gambling addict. It's not that Howard doesn't invite some of these obstacles upon himself. The casting of Sandler is key in making Howard congenial enough to lure you along on his ride. Otherwise the viewer would be wondering, Why for God's sake should I care about this pathetic individual who keeps diving deeper into chaos when he has so many opportunities to find his way out?

8. Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood, dir. Quentin Tarantino - I have my problems with this film, particularly with its revisionist ending. While that may have worked for Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, where the wishful destruction of Hitler and his top brass felt like a catharsis at a time when America was mired in endless wars, here it feels like a freeze on historical progress. Horrific as it was, the Manson Family murders felt like one of the earliest of a series of dark rites of passage for America that culminated in the explosive Watergate scandal, our departure from Vietnam, and more. Pretending the Tate-LaBianca Murders never happened feels akin to a kind of desire for America's arrested development. Still, the first two acts of the movie are gold, a sustained depiction of blissful 60s-era Hollywood on a collision course with the turmoil outside of its insular community. Best sequence of this year: Brad Pitt's spooky encounter with Manson's acolytes at the Spahn Ranch.

9. Ford v. Ferrari, dir. James Mangold - Pure cinema. Ford v. Ferrari is both visually and aurally breathtaking. Everything else is just icing on the cake. Rich icing that is, with old-school matinee idol performances by Christian Bale and Matt Damon, bolstered by one of the best ensembles of the season including Jon Bernthal, Caitriona Balfe, Tracy Letts, Josh Lucas, and Ray McKinnon.

10. American Factory, dirs. Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert - A microcosm of what is happening in our society today: outsourcing of manufacturing jobs; good, naive people working against their own self-interest; and the effects of globalization on small American towns.

11. A Hidden Life, dir. Terrence Malick - Malick returns to form with a beautiful, intimate story of a conscientious objector who resisted fighting for the Nazis. However, the canvas on which he presents it is epic and resonant. Under-publicized, A Hidden Life will grow in stature in the decades ahead.

12. Dolemite is My Name, dir. Craig Brewer - A sweet, funny delight of a movie. And it sports not one, but two comebacks... that highly publicized one of Eddie Murphy, as well as the under-the-radar return of the brilliant Wesley Snipes. Dolemite is made all the more outlandish by the fact that it is largely a true story. Those who weren't around when it happened may have trouble believing it ever really did.

13. The Irishman, dir. Martin Scorsese - Overlong, the film could easily cut out most of its first hour which seems designed simply to inform younger audiences of what I guess is now ancient history.  The de-aging CGI is flawed enough to emphasize rather than diminish the age of its subjects. But these nitpicks aside, The Irishman's last two hours are near perfect. It's De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci (oh, especially Pesci) directed by Scorsese, a landmark achievement in itself. And who isn't glad to see De Niro and Pacino underplaying their roles again after years of scenery chewing performances?

Honorable Mention: Ad Astra, At the Heart of Gold, Avengers: Endgame, Bombshell, Booksmart, I Lost My Body, Knives Out, Little Women, Marriage Story, Mike Wallace Is Here, Missing Link, The Nightingale, The Report, Us

Most Overrated: Jojo Rabbit and Joker (tie)

Most Underrated: Bombshell

Breakthrough Actors of the Year:
 Florence Pugh (Fighting with the Family, Little Women, Midsommar)


Winners are in red where my own vote coincides.

Georgia Film Critics Association

Best Picture: Parasite
Best Director: Bong Joon-Ho (Parasite)
Best Actor: Adam Driver (Marriage Story)
Best Actress:
Lupita N'Yongo (Us)
Best Supporting Actor: Joe Pesci (The Irishman)
Best Supporting Actress: Florence Pugh (Little Women)
Best Original Screenplay:
Parasite - Bong Joon-Ho, Han Jin-Won
Best Adapted Screenplay: The Irishman - Steven Zaillan
Best Cinematography: 1917 - Roger Deakins
Best Production Design:
1917 - Dennis Gassner, Lee Sandales
Best Original Score: 1917 - Thomas Newman
Best Original Song:
"Glasgow (No Place Like Home)” - Caitlin Smith, Mary Steenburgen, Kate York (Wild Rose)
Best Ensemble: Little Women
Best Foreign Language Film: Parasite
Breakthrough Award: Florence Pugh (Fighting with the Family, Little Women, Midsommar)
Best Animated Film:
Toy Story 4
Best Documentary: Apollo 11

Oglethorpe Award for Excellence in Georgia Cinema: The Peanut Butter Falcon


Best Film
1. Parasite
2. The Irishman

3. Marriage Story
4. Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood
5. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
6. Pain and Glory
7. Uncut Gems
8. The Souvenir
9. Joker
10. Little Women
11. The Farewell
12. Knives Out

13. Transit
14. The Lighthouse
15. Us
16. A Hidden Life
17. Ad Astra

18. Long Day’s Journey Into Night
19. Atlantics
20. High Life
21. 1917
22. The Last Black Man in San Francisco
23. Jojo Rabbit
24. An Elephant Sitting Still
25. Midsommar

Best Director: Bong Joon-Ho, Parasite
Best Screenplay: Parasite
Best Actress:
Lupita N'Yongo, Us
Best Actor: Adam Driver, Marriage Story
Best Supporting Actress:
Laura Dern, Marriage Story
Best Supporting Actor: Joe Pesci, The Irishman
Best Cinematography: 1917
Best Documentary:
Apollo 11
Best First Feature: Atlantics
Best Foreign Language Film: Parasite

The Southeastern Film Critics Association
Top 10
1. Parasite
2. The Irishman
3. Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood

4. Marriage Story
5. 1917
6. Jojo Rabbit
7. Little Women
8. The Farewell
9. Uncut Gems
10. Ford v. Ferrari

Best Actor: Adam Driver, Marriage Story
Best Actress:
Renee Zellweger, Judy
Best Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood
Best Supporting Actress: Laura Dern, Marriage Story
Best Ensemble: Knives Out
Best Director: Martin Scorsese, The Irishman
Best Original Screenplay: Bong Joon-ho and Jin Won Han, Parasite
Best Adapted Screenplay: Steven Zaillan, The Irishman
Best Documentary: Apollo 11
Best Foreign Language Film: Parasite
Best Animated Film:
Toy Story 4
Best Cinematography: Roger Deakins, 1917

The Gene Wyatt Award for the Film that Best Evokes the Spirit of the South:
The Peanut Butter Falcon

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