Top 10 Films of 2019

With only a single day left to go before the Academy Awards ceremony (which marks the official close of awards season for the previous year’s movies), the time is ripe to reveal my Top 10 Films of 2019. Enjoy!

My Top 10 Films of 2019

No. 10 – Ready or NotReady or not gif

Ready or Not is a comedic horror film directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, with a script from Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy. The film focuses on Grace (Samara Weaving) as she marries Alex (Mark O’Brien), a member of the wealthy Le Domas family who made its fortune in the board game business. On their wedding night, Grace must take part in a Le Domas family ritual: To welcome her to the family, everyone gathers around a table and lets a mysterious antique box choose a game for the family to play. The box chooses the one game Alex did not want to play—hide and seek. Grace thinks nothing of it, but soon she realizes that “hide and seek” is an affair akin to The Most Dangerous Game, wherein the Le Domas family must find Grace and kill her before sunrise or perish themselves. Aside from Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, this was by far the most fun I had watching any movie this year. The premise is unique and its execution is excellent, packed with plenty of jump scares, smart laughs, and amusing gore. The film deftly blends comedy, drama, horror, and satire, and its frenetic pace and high energy make for one of 2019’s most underrated film experiences. (Not to mention, Samara Weaving is sensational as the film’s breakout star.) Streaming available for purchase or rent on most major platforms. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZtYTwUxhAoI.

No. 9 – The IrishmanIrish gif

Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, an epic 209-minute film, tells the story of Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (Robert De Niro), who became a hitman for the Bufalino crime family (led by crime boss Russell Bufalino, played by Joe Pesci) and a close associate of Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino), the leader of the Teamsters. Martin Scorsese may not have invented the mob movie, but he’s sure responsible for perfecting it. (The gold standard for the genre is his 1990 film Goodfellas.) Part of Scorsese’s mob success is the effortless connection between him and his frequent collaborators, including Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Harvey Keitel. All three actors return for The Irishman (De Niro and Pesci in central roles, Keitel in more of a cameo appearance), which serves as a wonderful final chapter in Scorsese’s storied saga of mob crime films with these actors. With respect to acting, it is one of The Irishman’s central strengths, which makes sense in light of the fact that its principal performers are three Oscar-winning legends: De Niro, Pesci, and Al Pacino. As I mentioned in my Best Supporting Actor post, Pesci and Pacino are incredible—Pesci flips the script on his usual characters to play a much quieter and reserved role, while Pacino thrives as Jimmy Hoffa in his trademark bravado. This was also the first Pacino-Scorsese collaboration, and it was well worth the wait. One aspect of the film that has gotten the most attention is Scorsese’s use of expensive de-aging effects to make the three main actors look younger. At first, it is a real shock to see the actors look like young guys. But for me, after a short while, I stopped noticing, so the effect didn’t become a distraction for my viewing experience. Although Scorsese has already made the perfect mob film in Goodfellas, his work here (with the assistance of a solid screenplay from Gangs of New York co-writer Steven Zaillian) is still marvelous and goes to show that when it comes to this genre, Scorsese will always reign supreme. Streaming for free for subscribers to Netflix. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RS3aHkkfuEI.

No. 8 – Ford v FerrariFvF gif

Based on a true story, Ford v Ferrari tells the story of Ford Motor Company’s journey building a racecar to defeat the dominant Ferrari racing team in 1966 at the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans, a prestigious staple of endurance racing held each year outside of Le Mans, France. In order to defy expectations and truly challenge Ferrari for the crown, Ford enlists American racing legend and sports car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and the brash British driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) to turn its dream into a reality. When I first saw the trailer for this film, I thought it looked cheesy. Even though it isn’t a Disney movie, I was worried it might fall victim to tired tropes as seen in many Disney sports biopics, such as Miracle or Invincible. But I was wrong. Against a long list of great narrative features about racing (such as Rush, Le Mans, and Grand Prix), James Mangold’s Ford v Ferrari takes the checkered flag. Part of the movie’s appeal is its intricate balance of racing and humanism. Yes, the actual story of Ford’s racing team taking on Ferrari at the ’66 Le Mans is compelling, and in that respect, the film’s thunderous sights and sounds (perfected via first-rate sound editing/mixing and film editing) can’t be beat by any other racing movie. But the film’s focus on its characters is equally as impressive. Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles are interesting characters, and the exquisite acting from Matt Damon and Christian Bale, respectively, makes you care about their story, both on and off the track. Streaming available for purchase on most major platforms (not yet available for rent). Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I3h9Z89U9ZA.

No. 7 – MidsommarMidsommar gif

Ari Aster’s follow up to his acclaimed 2018 film Hereditary, Midsommar tells the story of Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor), a young couple whose relationship is on the rocks. When Dani’s family tragically dies, Christian begrudgingly lets her join him and his friends for a summer trip to a small village in Sweden to take part in the community’s midsummer festival. What starts out as a fun, cheerful experience soon turns ominous and terrifying as the village’s rituals grow more unsettling. Although Hereditary laid the foundation for Ari Aster’s twisted filmmaking prowess, Midsommar perfected it. There is nothing conventional about this movie—some scenes left me absolutely gobsmacked, but I couldn’t look away. The sights and sounds of Midsommar absolutely sink their teeth into you. In addition to the vibrant colors and magnificent set design, the film’s main strength is Florence Pugh, who turned in one of the best acting performances of the entire year. Pugh is definitely one of my favorite rising stars in cinema, and Midsommar features her best performance yet. Dani is an emotional wreck throughout the film for a variety of reasons, and Pugh plays it seamlessly. Do yourself a favor and give this film a chance! Streaming for free for subscribers to Amazon Prime. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Vnghdsjmd0.

No. 6 – Jojo RabbitJojo gif

Writer/director Taika Waititi’s film Jojo Rabbit is a satirical black comedy set during the height of World War II in Nazi Germany. The titular character (Roman Griffin Davis) is an aspiring member of the Hitler Youth who idolizes the ideological views of the Third Reich—these prejudices are then encouraged by his imaginary friend, Hitler himself, played hilariously by Waititi. However, Jojo is forced to confront his intolerance when he discovers that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their attic. In Jojo Rabbit, filmmaker Taika Waititi is as brazen as could be. Tackling a serious subject matter like this via satire is always daring, and Waititi certainly takes risks with an irreverent sense of humor. But the result is a beautiful cinematic experience. Waititi’s dialogue is sharp and witty, both in its humor and its solemnity, and he deftly juxtaposes the laughs with more serious tones and themes that make you think. I was particularly impressed with the performances of the film’s younger actors, namely Roman Griffin Davis and Thomasin McKenzie—the evolution of their relationship throughout the movie was touching, and the chemistry between the actors was palpable. And although I already discussed it thoroughly on my Best Supporting Actress post, it is worth mentioning again that Johansson is a vision as Rosie Betzler, Jojo’s mom. She serves as the moral core and emotional hook of the film, and Johansson definitely nails it. Streaming available for purchase on most major platforms (not yet available for rent). Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tL4McUzXfFI.

No. 5 – The FarewellFarwell gif

In Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, a Chinese family’s cherished grandmother Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen) is diagnosed with terminal cancer. However, Nai Nai has no clue of the diagnosis. The entire family decides to shield Nai Nai from the news and convene in China to spend time with her before she dies under the premise of a spontaneous wedding involving one of the cousins. Billi (Awkwafina), who lives in New York City but still maintains an incredibly close relationship with her grandmother, cherishes her time back in China with Nai Nai but struggles considerably with her family’s decision to keep up the ruse. The Farewell was one of the darlings of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and justifiably so. It is a touching examination of family and culture, with an impeccable balance of laughs and tears. On this blog, I previously discussed why Zhao Shuzhen and Awkwafina were the two biggest snubs in the Best Supporting Actress and Best Leading Actress categories, respectively. Their performances are tender and beautiful, and although the underlying story and themes are compelling enough, their acting packs an inspirational punch, bringing it all home in such a relatable way. If you’re looking for a film to give you all the feels, look no further than The Farewell. Streaming available for purchase or rent on most major platforms. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RofpAjqwMa8.

No. 4 – 19171917 gif

Sam Mendes’s 1917, set during World War I, tells the story of two British soldiers, Schofield (George MacKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), who must relay a message across enemy lines to another battalion in order to call off a scheduled attack that will surely result in the casualties of 1,600 soldiers. For me, 1917 is one of the greatest technical film achievements of all time. The main unique storytelling device Mendes uses to tell this story is a single long take. Casual film audiences may find the use of the single tracking shot to be a bit gimmicky, but knowing everything that must go into flawlessly executing such a feat (including elaborate production design, careful character blocking, and precise cinematography), I was wildly impressed. (Check out this featurette detailing just how much work went into crafting this film.) The meticulous art of legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins’s photography is breathtaking, and honestly, his long take creates an incredible sense of suspense and anxiety—it really is a masterful piece of cinema. If the movie stood only on the shoulders of its technical proficiency, it would probably still be on this list but wouldn’t be as high. 1917’s extra boost comes from the story’s incredible themes of humanism and resolve. Based on the war stories told to Mendes from his grandfather’s first-hand accounts, 1917 is an amazing war epic. Streaming not yet available for purchase or rent. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZjQROMAh_s.

No. 3 – Uncut GemsUncut Gems gif

Uncut Gems is a one-of-a-kind movie. The film follows Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), a New York City jeweler who imports a rare Ethiopian opal (under clearly unethical circumstances) and looks to sell it to land a big payday. However, Howard has a debilitating gambling addiction (probably not in his own eyes, though) and owes money all over town. Thus, while trying to secure a profit from the opal, Howard’s poor decisions and rather sleazy personality land him in the stickiest of wickets, which serve as the driving force for the film’s conflict. In 2017, my No. 6 movie of the year was Good Time, the previous film from the Safdie brothers. And while Good Time has the same general frenetic style of Uncut Gems, it was a bit more disjointed. I obviously still enjoyed it, but here, the Safdie brothers deliver a much more coherent purpose for the plot. The Safdie brothers’ chaotic filmmaking style is raw and anxiety-inducing, but it fits the story like a glove. The most impressive feat from the young filmmakers, though, is their collaboration here with Adam Sandler. Howard Ratner is deranged and delusional, and above all, he is arrogantly unfazed by the consequences of his many disastrous choices. Adam Sandler embodies the role marvelously, turning in a career-best performance. I enjoyed the supporting performances from Lakeith Stanfield (one of this generation’s most talented actors) and Julia Fox, but I was also thoroughly captivated by Kevin Garnett’s acting debut. (The movie is set in 2012 during the Eastern Conference Finals between the Celtics and 76ers, and the future hall of famer plays a fictionalized version of himself who is obsessed with Howard’s opal, believing it to be his good luck charm on the court.) Uncut Gems is 2019’s most exhilarating thrill ride—you’ll never forget it! Streaming not yet available for purchase or rent. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vTfJp2Ts9X8.

No. 2 – ParasiteParasite gift

Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite follows the Kim family as they work to infiltrate the home of the Park family in order to attain financial stability. The Kims occupy a place near the bottom of the South Korean class system, living in a shabby semi-basement and attempting various hustles for income (like folding pizza boxes for a local business). Conversely, the Park family is incredibly wealthy and live in a luxurious home. The Kim children, Ki-woo and Ki-jeong, eventually hatch a plan to serve as tutor and “art therapist,” respectively, for the Park family’s children. Once they’ve successfully done so, the family devises additional plots to secure employment for their parents—their mother, Chung-sook, eventually lands a coveted spot as the Parks’ housekeeper, and their father, Ki-taek, takes up the role of the Parks’ valet. Bong’s film, which won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019, is amazing. Absolutely brilliant. Not only is it my second favorite film of 2019, but I recently ranked it as my fifth favorite movie from the 2010s. The production design is outstanding, the cinematography is beautifully captivating, and the darkly comedic script is flawless. And then there is the film’s title. Merriam-Webster defines “parasite” both as “a person who exploits the hospitality of the rich and earns welcome by flattery” and “an organism living in, with, or on another organism.” Bong shrewdly explores the full extent of the “parasite” theme throughout this film, which pairs seamlessly with his broader examination of the inequities of the social class system. In addition to Bong’s filmmaking, Parasite is a shining example of superlative acting. The entire cast is great (in fact, the group won the SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture), but the standout performers are Song Kang-ho as Ki-taek Kim and Cho Yeo-jeong as Yeon-gyo Park. Streaming available for purchase or rent on most major platforms. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5xH0HfJHsaY.

No. 1 – Once Upon a Time in HollywoodOnce uPon a Time gif

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the ninth feature film by Quentin Tarantino, is set in Los Angeles in 1969 and tells the story of aging actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his longtime stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) as they work to find their place in the industry during the last days of Hollywood’s Golden Age. I’ll get this out of the way at the outset: I am an unabashed fan of Quentin Tarantino as a filmmaker. (Inglourious Basterds is my favorite movie of all time.) I think he is one of the most influential cinematic craftsmen of all time, and his unparalleled brand of storytelling (which features a distinct sense of humor) always connects well with me. With Once Upon a Time, Tarantino is at his very best concerning a subject matter he’s incredibly passionate about—Hollywood. This film truly immerses you in the times. Although I obviously wasn’t around in 1969, I left the theater feeling as if I’d actually experienced the real-life Hollywood from that era—the production design and set decoration from Barbara Ling and Nancy Haigh, respectively, was masterful. At its core, this movie is about friendship, and in that respect, DiCaprio and Pitt make it all the more authentic. The chemistry between the two veteran performers is unmistakable, and you’d be hard-pressed to find too many acting duos in film history that did it as well as Leo and Brad did here. Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth couldn’t be more different, but therein lies the charm of their loyal companionship. Dalton is unsure of himself, while Booth is fearlessly confident and cool. (For instance, Dalton gets into an all-out screaming match with himself in his trailer when he botches some lines on the set of Lancer, while Booth comfortably, without hesitation, beats the living daylights out of a hippie at Spawn Ranch for slashing his tires.) These were truly two of the most memorable performances of the year, and Pitt is more than likely going to take home an Oscar for his part. The last thing worth mentioning is Tarantino’s decision to use Charles Manson and Sharon Tate (played wonderfully by Margot Robbie) as an underpinning to the film’s plot. I was not sure where Tarantino was going to take that subplot, as we all know how the real thing ended on that fateful night at 10050 Cielo Drive. In the end, I was a bit surprised and thoroughly satisfied—it all came together in a manner that only could have come from the twisted mind of Quentin Tarantino. This movie is provocative and without restraint, and all I want to do right now is watch it again! Streaming available for purchase or rent on most major platforms. Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ELeMaP8EPAA.

 

 

Top 10 Films of 2018, No. 8 – American Animals

American Animals is a dramatic crime film that is written and directed by Bart Layton. Based on real-life events, the film follows two friends – Spencer Reinhard (Barry Keoghan) and Warren Lipka (Evan Peters) – who plot to commit a heist of expensively rare books (including The Birds of America by John James Audubon) maintained at the library on campus at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky. What starts out more like a dare quickly turns into a dangerous reality as the boys (who eventually recruit two more guys to the team – Chas Allen, portrayed by Blake Jenner, and Eric Borsuk, portrayed by Jared Abrahamson) become increasingly fixated on the prospect of doing something daring and interesting with their lives.

AA1This movie is a thrilling experience, and the style in which it is presented is fascinating and adds significantly to its allure – the film is a hybrid that combines elements of dramatic narrative and documentary filmmaking in an exceptionally unique way. Throughout the movie, Layton skillfully mixes in interviews with the real-life characters, and these interviews aren’t in the form of archival footage – instead, Layton actually filmed new interviews with the real people behind the heist attempt and intercut those shots with the narrative being told. So essentially, the scenes starring Keoghan and Peters embody an incredibly well-crafted reenactment of the story being told through the documentary-style interviews. This technique was wildly intriguing, and it never once reached the point of being gimmicky. Layton employed this system of storytelling aptly as a way to better advance the plot and its rich themes of entitlement and delusion, and American Animals was a grittier film because of it.

AAAs far as the story itself, it is absolutely absurd. From the very start, the plan that Spencer and Warren hatch is utterly misguided and illogical. All four of the college kids involved in the scheme come from seemingly normal middle-class families, which only adds to the silliness of their heist attempt – influenced by Tarantino movies, these guys seem to just be looking for an adrenaline rush to spice up their lives with the prospect that it might provide some sense of meaning to their existence. The entire movie is a subtle referendum on entitlement, which makes the ultimate message so deep, despite the fun and entertainment that comes along with telling a heist story. As seen in the interview scenes, the real-life Spencer Reinhard and Warren Lipka recite the events with vast contradiction, leaving the audience to guess whether certain parts of the story ever really happened. It is an engaging tale of delusion, and Layton tells it well.

AA2The reenactment portion of the film features some impressive acting performances, particularly those of Keoghan and Peters. I have seen Keoghan in a few bit parts over the last couple of years, but he broke out in Yorgos Lanthimos’s 2017 film The Killing of a Sacred Deer – although I liked Keoghan much better in that film, where he was perfectly haunting and amusingly wicked, he is still a force in American Animals. He portrays Spencer’s apathy with precision. I was also thoroughly impressed by Peters’s performance as Warren. Despite the fact that the plan is initially concocted between both Warren and Spencer, it is Warren who pushes the heist forward at every step, including organizing a buyer for the rare books that are to be sold. Peters is remarkable in his depiction of Warren’s fixation on the heist, and his portrayal of Warren’s accompanying delusions of grandeur is spot-on. American Animals is rated R for language throughout, some drug use, and brief crude/sexual material.

American Animals trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yAhruSwum1c&t=34s

Top 10 Films of 2016, No. 6 – O.J.: Made in America

O.J.: Made in America is a sports documentary feature directed by Ezra Edelman and produced by ESPN Films. The film, released in five installments (and in a limited theatrical release) by ESPN as part of its 30 for 30 series, depicts the rise and fall of O.J. Simpson.

oj1To put it simply: O.J.: Made in America is one of the greatest documentary films I have ever seen (and to be honest, it just might be my favorite). With the award-winning FX series The People v. O.J. Simpson and Ezra Edelman’s 467-minute documentary here, 2016 seemed like 1995 all over again—O.J. Simpson was everywhere! For many people across the nation, O.J. Simpson and the “trial of the century” are only concepts they have heard about from stories. oj7For many others, the tumultuous times surrounding the Hall of Fame running back’s acquittal of the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman seem just like yesterday. Considering the varying degrees of O.J. knowledge, Ezra Edelman executed his Made in America project in such a way as to fully explain the social significance of O.J. Simpson and his 1995 trial to any novice, while also uncovering new plot threads for those that lived through it in real time.

oj6The reason O.J. Simpson and his infamous trial were so enthralling at the time—and continue to be today—is because that story had everything, including the perfect blend sports, fame, and race. Ezra Edelman captures the historical impact of O.J. Simpson brilliantly. While Ryan Murphy’s The People v. O.J. Simpson delved deep into the story at the time of the trial, Edelman explored the complete story of O.J. Simpson—the film essentially spans Simpson’s entire life. Edelman vividly examines the early part of Simpson’s life, prior to his fame and fortune, but he is at his best when depicting the social significance of Simpson, a black man, being the most adored figure in America. oj2At a time when black athletes were using their platform to stand for social justice and bring about change, Simpson stood by the motto, “I’m not black, I’m O.J.” Edelman fiercely investigates how O.J.’s stance of transcending race played the central role in making him a figure that white people could adulate. The story of O.J. Simpson’s fame is one of the most fascinating real-life character studies to ever exist, and Edelman’s examination of this enigmatic figure is spectacular.

oj4A story about O.J. Simpson would not be complete without a vigorous survey of the 1995 murder trial. To capture the spirit of Simpson’s trial, Edelman included interviews with many key figures, including Marcia Clark, Bill Hodgman, Gil Garcetti, Carl Douglas, F. Lee Bailey, Barry Scheck, and even the notorious Mark Fuhrman. Edelman takes a vividly introspective look at one of the most recognized events in TV history, and he does so with immeasurable social awareness. oj5Edelman digs into O.J.’s horrifying pattern of domestic violence against Nicole and the role it played in reshaping his perception among a significant portion of the general public; however, Edelman also unveils the role of institutional racism in molding black Americans’ perspective on police brutality and prejudice. The O.J. Simpson trial revealed an intense divisiveness in American society, and Ezra Edelman’s exploration of that discord is superb. O.J.: Made in America is not rated.

O.J.: Made in America trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HrB3rOcrJxg

Academy Award nominations for O.J.: Made in America:

Best Documentary Feature (Ezra Edelman and Caroline Waterlow)

Previous movies on the countdown of my Top 10 Films of 2016:

  1. La La Land
  2. Fences
  3. Zootopia
  4. Nocturnal Animals

Countdown to the Oscars — Round Three!

Imagine What's Possible - Oscars

Welcome back to the red carpet, movie fans! The stage is now set for my 3rd annual “Countdown to the Oscars” blog!  Each year it gets more and more exciting to delve deep into the newest additions in film history, and again I am thrilled to get back to commentating on this year’s fantastic cinematic achievements.

Starting today and continuing right up until the ceremony, I will post regularly about the Oscars.  These posts will include both my “Top 15 Films of the Year” list and my own personal Oscars ballot for this year’s major categories (14 of the 24 categories, to be exact).  I will also again be posting a review about the actual ceremony in late February. In addition to these perennial posts, I will also include a new post—tomorrow morning I will release my “Top 3 Most Disappointing Films of the Year.”

NPH OscarsThis year, Neil Patrick Harris will be hosting the Oscars ceremony. NPH is a decently humorous actor, but in my opinion, he has some massively large shoes to fill. Last year, Ellen DeGeneres absolutely killed it, and I would have loved to see her return to the stage. DeGeneres’s performance last year garnered universal acclaim, provided a wealth of memorable moments, and even included a “celebrity selfie” that went on to become the most retweeted tweet of all time. Needless to say, NPH will have to elevate his game to meet the new “Ellen” standard. But ultimately I think he will come through—he is a veteran awards show host, with a résumé that includes hosting four Tony Awards and two Primetime Emmy Awards. I imagine his performance will include musical numbers, mirroring the performances of Billy Crystal and Hugh Jackman in their years as hosts; obviously, this is because NPH is a talented performer, adding a Tony in 2014 for his role in Hedwig and the Angry Inch to his long list of accolades.

This year, the Oscars will be broadcasted live from the Dolby Theater in Hollywood on February 22nd, 2015—that is just 23 days away!!

Many thanks to all of you that are back again this year, and I look forward to any new readers—I really do appreciate the support.  So sit back, relax, and enjoy the show—it’s OSCAR TIME!