By Chad Guyton
To listen to The Screeners talk indepth about their favorite films of 2019, check out our Top 10 of 2019 Episode.
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10. THE FAREWELL
Upon first viewing, LuLu Wang's second feature can feel contained and possibly even distant. Still, the more I thought about this film, the more my appreciation for its construction turned into an emotional connection for this story based on "a true lie." The ensemble cast is excellent with Shuzhen Zhao and Awkwafina turning in award-worthy performances. Funny and moving, the message at the heart of The Farewell is universal.
9. ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD
I understand why some people don't like Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood. It's 2.5 hours long, it feels light on plot, and the end is polarizing. Still, Tarantino's 9th film is his most mature and nuanced work. More than just a "hang out" movie, Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood is a paean to the Golden Days of Tinseltown. The writing is sharp, the performances brilliant (especially Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate), and multiple viewings will reward those willing to explore the layered themes.
8. AVENGERS: ENDGAME
The Russo brothers pulled off a seemingly impossible feat with Avengers: Endgame. Somehow they created a satisfying conclusion to over 20 Marvel films and did so with a three-hour run time that never felt long. The opening tone is an homage to The Leftovers (one of the best TV shows off all time, kids), and the way they handled the ending of the mildly disappointing Avengers: Infinity War brought a sense of peril and stakes to Endgame. Thanos remains one of the best developed and intriguing villains in comic-book film history, and the ending battle was epic in the most genuine sense of the word. Endgame's one fault is that the emotional arc can't reach its full potential without watching many of the previous Marvel movies. That said, for those who are invested in the expanded universe, Endgame is fantastic.
7. DOLEMITE IS MY NAME
Dolemite is my Name is raunchy, irreverent, and wonderful. Eddie Murphy is a force as real-life legend Rudy Ray Moore, a comedy and rap pioneer, who wouldn't allow his dream to die. Dolemite is a movie about comedy that is legitimately hilarious in its own right. A stellar ensemble (with a standout performance from Da'Vine Joy Randolph) lifts what could have been a standard underdog story to something greater. This is a film about people chasing their passion and coming together to MAKE something just for the joy of making it. It's a love letter to filmmaking, the creative process, and what it is to be a family. I loved this movie.
While I can't say that I "liked" this film, neither can I deny the intense experience that is Joker. The emotional impact and intellectual whirlwind this caused were unlike any movie I saw in 2019. Provocative and dark, Joker asks the audience to consider the costs of violence by employing that very thing to keep you watching. It considers mental illness, apathy for the unseen, societal anger through the lens of a "comic book villain" origin story to significant effect. The cinematography is breathtaking, and Joaquin Phoenix's performance carries the weight of the entire film. The subtext of "deserving" violence combined with an unreliable narrator (is it really in his head?) ultimately undermines the film. However, I still can't shake Joker several months after my first viewing, and I'm always appreciative of art that forces me to grapple with its ideas.
5. APOLLO 11
I'm not sure what the Academy has against nominating some of the best documentaries of the year, but 2019 marks consecutive snubs for Won't You be my Neighbor and now Apollo 11. Eschewing traditional documentary filmmaking techniques, Todd Miller is somehow able to piece together an inspiring and joyous story from newly discovered archival footage of the Apollo 11 mission. The absence of interviews, b-roll coverage, and reenactments create an immersive and exhilarating experience. I was moved to tears by the imagery of our majestic universe and wanted to audibly cheer when the crew's courage and determination took us to the moon. Seeing this in IMAX is something I will never forget.
4. JOJO RABBIT
I'm not sure how a film like Jojo Rabbit got made, but in an age where satire is misused and underappreciated, I'm happy to report that not only does it work, it's wholly unique and delightful. Taika Waititi's remarkable script has expertly balanced a sense of absurd comedy and silliness with unthinkable real-life horror. Roman Griffin Davis gives a stellar performance, and his dinner scene with Scarlett Johansson is a masterclass in acting. Earnest, charming, and poignant, Jojo Rabbit is ultimately a celebration of life, and it earns that dance.
3. LITTLE WOMEN
It was difficult for me to get excited about another adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic story, Little Women, and I was uncertain why Greta Gerwig would choose this project as her follow up to Ladybird. After the first 30 minutes of the film, it became clear that this would become the defining adaptation of Alcott's work and that Gerwig's point of view would bring a fresh perspective to the challenges faced by the March sisters while honoring the original story. The nonsequential approach brings a new sense of importance to several thematic elements and also results in more complete character arcs for each sister. The ensemble is outstanding, and the result is a film that is passionate, warm, and fierce. Little Women was one of my happiest theatrical surprises of 2019.
The technical mastery on display in 1917 is hard to believe. Roger Deakins won his second Oscar for cinematography, and even that lofty recognition fails to convey how stunning the work behind the camera is. Still, after a few short minutes, the craft fell away, and I was drawn into the harrowing story of two men journeying across a treacherous landscape to try and save the lives of their fellow soldiers. I've read complaints from critics who compare the first-person nature of the filmmaking to videogames, and while I see where that comparison comes from, I think it's a lazy critique. In a video game, the player has agency and control of whatever character they are playing. In 1917, we are told a story from a specific point of view that becomes fully immersive to the viewer. The first half is taut and horrific; the second half has a hint of Dante's Inferno with an otherworldly, if not metaphorical take on the character's trip through hell. I was overwhelmed by this movie, and it deserves to be watched on the largest screen possible.
1. MARRIAGE STORY
Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story is heartbreaking, authentic, agonizing, and ultimately, hopeful. As a child of parents who divorced, I admit that this subject is deeply personal for me. Still, it's my number one film of 2019 because it is masterfully written, and showcases the best ensemble acting performances of the year (sorry Parasite). Never has a film so accurately depicted the tiny mundane injuries inflicted at the end of a marriage or the unintentional use of children as leverage in the machine that is the divorce industry. Its refusal to take a side allows us to empathize with both characters as we yearn for them to talk to each other and rediscover what initially brought them together. It's also funny. Really funny. As in real relationships, the horrible and hilarious coexist, and Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson embody that sentiment perfectly.
It is also littered with brilliant moments that are unforgettable:
- The opening scene describing their love for each other
- Her response after "one last note."
- Bedtime Story
- Merrit Wever serving papers
- The fight scene
- Being Alive
- The letter scene
Marriage Story isn't emotionally manipulative like films about dying dogs or young adult cancer romances. Its crushing power lies in the way it respectfully treats both parties and treats them as real humans who love their child and, at the end of it all, each other. It is the best film of 2019.
Peanut Butter Falcon
Ford V Ferrari
Most Disappointing - The Rise of Skywalker
Movie I liked that critics didn’t - Brightburn
Movie I didn’t like that critics did - Us
Biggest Surprise - Shazam