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.

 

 

The 92nd Oscars – Best Supporting Actress

Welcome to this year’s edition of my annual pre-Oscars film blog. Since I started this blog seven years ago, I have always looked forward to the opportunity to talk about my favorite movies and performances of year. However, this year is going to take a slightly different shape, due in part to both the Oscars’ abbreviated schedule (the ceremony airs on February 9th this year, far earlier than usual) and my new role of dad to a (nearly) ten-month old!

This year, in terms of breaking down numerous categories of Oscar nominees, I will be examining the four acting categories, as well as the Best Picture category. Per usual, I will also reveal the list of my 10 favorite films from 2019! Then on the day of the ceremony, I will include posts that show my entire ballot for every category this year in which I have seen each film/performance and a full ranking from top to bottom of every movie I viewed from 2019.

So let’s get started with my first post—an examination of the Best Supporting Actress category. The format for this post (and all of my other reviews of the acting categories) will be (1) a review of each nominee in alphabetical order; (2) a brief discussion of my other favorite performances of the year, including any “snubs”; and (3) a breakdown of who could, should, and will win the Oscar in this category.

The Nominees

Kathy Bates (Richard Jewell)Bates 2

Richard Jewell tells the story of the titular security guard who discovers a bomb at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, saves a crowd of people from its blast, and is transformed from overnight hero to villain by an unfair media smear. In the film, Kathy Bates plays Richard’s mother, Bobi Jewell. Most of Bates’s time on screen is in a background capacity, and it is not really until the very end of the film where she has her “Oscar moment.” In this scene—a press conference—Bobi pleads for the FBI to discontinue its investigation of her son as a suspect and passionately lambasts the media for its role in the debacle. Although this moment is meant to be the emotional hook of the film, the entire thing felt forced in an effort to perpetuate director Clint Eastwood’s political and societal message about the press. Don’t get me wrong, Bates nails the scene. But for me, this performance was the most expendable in this category and should have gone to a more deserving candidate this year.

Laura Dern (Marriage Story)Dern Gif

Marriage Story should really be called Divorce Story. The film is wonderfully made, which I would fully expect with Noah Baumbach at the wheel. But it definitely isn’t a happy movie. The subject matter is sad and depressing and illuminates a painful slice of life for its lead characters. Despite that, the acting in the movie is marvelous, including the supporting performance by Laura Dern, who plays Nora Fanshaw, the divorce attorney representing Nicole Barber (Scarlett Johansson) in her divorce from Charlie (Adam Driver). I’ve seen Dern’s character described as a “shark” and “intense,” as Nora is a ruthless advocate for her client. Nora wants to help Nicole value her worth at every turn—and she also wants to win at all costs. Baumbach’s movies are always funny in a very particular way, and here, Dern steals the comedic moments in every scene she’s in. Her highlight reel at the Academy Awards will likely be from her monologue on fathers in her initial consultation with Nicole, which is amazing throughout.

Scarlett Johansson (Jojo Rabbit)ScarJo JoJo 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 is an aspiring member of the Hitler Youth who idolizes the ideological venom spewed by the Third Reich. (For God’s sake, his imaginary friend is Hitler himself, played hilariously by Waititi.) Although the film is meant to be funny, its subject matter and underlying message are absolutely serious and touching. And the moral core is Rosie Betzler, played by Scarlett Johansson. Rosie is Jojo’s mother, and her views about life differ significantly from her son’s. While Jojo believes all of the evil propaganda about Jewish people, Rosie is simultaneously hiding a young Jewish girl in their attic, shielding her from the Nazis. And although the film is definitely hilarious, Rosie is at the center of the film’s most emotionally affecting scene, which is absolutely heartbreaking. Johansson is a vision as Rosie, and it’s her keen ability to tap into her character’s most funny and tragic moments with ease that makes her the highlight of the movie.

Florence Pugh (Little Women)Pugh LW gif

This film is the latest in a long line of film adaptations of Louisa May Alcott’s critically acclaimed book Little Women. Florence Pugh plays the youngest sister Amy March, and she is magnificent. Pugh is one of my very favorite young actresses, and in Little Women, she brings a refreshing perspective to this famed character. Amy is a character with many emotional highs and lows throughout the film, and Pugh deftly navigates Amy’s complex nature. A couple of notable highlights for Pugh are her spirited conversation with Laurie (played by Timothée Chalamet) about the transactional nature of marriage and her vengeful spat with her sister Jo (played by Saoirse Ronan) wherein she burns Jo’s writings in a fit of rage and jealousy. Pugh has been building to this acclaim for a few years now (she burst onto the scene with a clever performance in Lady Macbeth and hauntingly dazzled this year in Midsommar), and I am more than pleased to see her finally receive this kind of adulation.

Margot Robbie (Bombshell)Robbie gif

Bombshell tells the story of Fox News and the sexual harassment controversy surrounding its former CEO Roger Ailes. As much as I wanted to love this movie, I just didn’t. The makeup work is phenomenal and the acting performances are great. But for me, the entire thing failed to hit any depth with respect to its examination of a very worthy storyline. The movie felt more sensationalist than anything, which was a drag, because when I first saw the trailer, I really thought Bombshell was going to be an instant classic. Despite this general feeling about the movie, Margot Robbie is wonderful as the fictional Kayla Pospisil, an aspiring young employee starting a new career at Fox News. Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, and others are certainly talented in their keen imitation of real-life characters, but Robbie’s fictional character is the point through which the audience connects to this story. Robbie has carved out a place for herself among the heavyweight actresses of our time with amazing performances in The Wolf of Wall Street and I, Tonya, but I am just as impressed with her ability to make the audience feel emotionally connected in an impactful way to the gravity of the storyline in this otherwise very disjointed film.

Snubs and Other PerformancesLopez gif

In addition to this year’s nominees, there were a handful of other noteworthy performances this year that easily could have been in contention for the Oscar. First, film newcomer Da’Vine Joy Randolph (who was previously nominated for a Tony Award for her Broadway role in Ghost the Musical) was a hilarious presence as Lady Reed in Dolemite Is My Name. Second, Jennifer Lopez was truly spectacular as Ramona in Hustlers. When Oscar nominations first dropped, the Twitterverse was quite upset at Lopez’s failure to garner a nomination in this category. I tweeted that I could not yet weigh in on that debate because I had not yet seen Hustlers. However, now that I have, I completely understand people feeling miffed by her “snub,” as Lopez was at her best since Selena. It was a wonderful film, which thrived upon Lopez’s standout performance. Additionally, numerous performers from Parasite were worthy of Oscar praise, especially Cho Yeo-jeong and Park So-dam.

zhao gifHowever, for me, I think the biggest snub in this category was Zhao Shuzhen for her divine performance as Nai Nai in Lulu Wang’s breakout film The Farewell. This was one of my favorite movies from all of 2019, and it flourishes due to the superlative performances of both Awkwafina (I’ll get to her later this week as the biggest snub in the Leading Actress category) and Zhao. In the film, Nai Nai is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, but she has no idea, as her family decides to keep the news from her. The film is a touching examination of family and culture, and Zhao’s funny, but emotionally tender, performance deserved an Oscar nomination.

Conclusion

Who Could Win: Margot Robbie

Although she is still very much an underdog in this category, Robbie is getting the best odds (+1000) of any of the category’s other underdogs to pull off an upset.

Who Should Win: Scarlett Johansson

Although nearly all of the Academy Awards hype for Scarlett Johansson is for her performance in Marriage Story, I am partial to her role as Rosie in Jojo Rabbit. Even though the movie is comedic in its satirical mocking of the Nazis, it very much has a more serious, dramatic core. Johansson’s Rosie represents the moral ground upon which the film’s unflinching message is securely fastened.

Who Will Win: Laura Dern

With her third Oscar nomination, Laura Dern will finally be taking home her first Academy Award. With a clean sweep of the year’s major award shows in this category (i.e., the BAFTAs, SAG Awards, Critics’ Choice Awards, and Golden Globes), Dern is getting an astounding -2500 odds to win the Oscar. With odds like that and in light of the hardware she’s already taken home this season, I fully expect the result here to be a foregone conclusion.