Friday, January 17, 2020

My Favourite Films of 2019

Finally, here are my choices for the best in cinema of the past year.

1. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood - I suppose anyone who knows me, and my obsession with everything Tarantino, saw this one coming the proverbial mile away. In my opinion, QT has never made anything less than great, but this one, the auteur's ninth film (and possibly penultimate film as well) may well be his best yet. Less action fueled than typical Tarantino, Once Upon A Time is a languid look at a lost world. A world that Tarantino (and myself) grew up admiring. The old Hollywood system had fallen apart, but the remnants of the old were still around in the 198 and 1969 of this film's setting. A gorgeous film and a wonderful look back on the bygone world of old Hollywood.

2. Midsommar - With allusions to The Wicker Man and an obvious feel for Kubrickian storytelling, Ari Aster's batshitcrazy sophomore tale of female empowerment slowly but surely climbs and climbs to a crescendo of insanity that needs to be seen to be believed. Anchored by the best female performance of 2019, Florence Pugh, ascends to figurative and maybe even literal Goddess by the time everything is said and done.

3. Parasite - I went into Bong Joon Ho's film not knowing anything about it, and was floored with every twist and turn. Much like Midsommar, and I suppose Once Upon A Time too, this Korean film climbs and climbs and gets crazier and crazier and batshitcrazier with each developing scene. A brilliant take on the class system that permeates most of society.

4. Joker - Pushing aside the typical amusement park sensibility that Martin Scorsese  recently attributed to the superhero/comic book genre, Todd Phillips, previously best known for stupid frat pack comedies like Old School and The Hangover Trilogy, makes his Joker a take on just how fucked up society has gotten. Structuring it after the films of the aforementioned Scorsese, the film is his twisted take on The King of Comedy, so much so that he even casts Robert De Niro in the Jerry Lewis role of that film. Joaquin Phoenix, in the best goddamn performance of the year, and perhaps channeling Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver, and perhaps of his career (at least equal to that of The Master), embodies his anti-hero with such pathos that we are actually rooting for the so-called villain here.

5. Pain and Glory - Although Pedro Almadovar's latest doesn't quite reach the top here, this is still easily the most beautiful looking film of last year. Of course this was probably a forgone conclusion, with the Spanish auteur's usual flare for production design, but even by Almadovar standards, this is a succulent work of art. Oh, and star Antonio Banderas, in his seventh film with Almadovar, and basically playing Almadovar himself, gives a career best performance in the lead.

6. The Lighthouse - Director Robert Eggers takes a creepy lighthouse in the remotest of remote locations, tosses in Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe as a young fresh wickie and his seasoned, and quite difficult boss, respectively, and then shoots it in the starkest of  blacks & whites, and hands us a harrowing Greek tragedy of madness and possible spiritual awakening.

7. Uncut Gems - The Safdie Brothers have created a story of obsession and addiction, as well as a tale of redemption...and then pull the rug out from beneath it all time and time again. They have also created something else...a film where one can honestly say Adam Sandler is freaking fantastic! Get a load of that.

8. The Irishman - A three plus hour masterwork that acts as Scorsese's farewell to the Gangster genre. Much the way John Ford said goodbye to the Western in 1964's Cheyenne Autumn, Scorsese takes a long hard look at what really becomes of a mobster after his glory days are gone, and he is left a lonely bitter old man. Who knows if he will ever make another gangster picture, but if this is his swan song of that genre, pitting Scorsese stalwarts De Niro, Pesci, Pacino, and even Harvey Keitel, up against each other again, the auteur closes the book on the gangster film with both class and a whole lot of sadness.

9. Us - Jordan Peele's follow-up to the brilliant satire that was Get Out, is an even more twisted take on society and the idea of self. Lupita Nyong'o, in a dual role, is both incandescent and scary as Hell. Peele's take on the modern horror film, as he twists everything we thought we knew about the genre around to an almost indescribable place, does it once again with Us.

10. 1917 - I honestly was not expecting to like this film as much as I did. I was sure that the enduring one shot pulled of my director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins was going to be a technical marvel, but I was taken aback at how emotional and what a thrill ride this anti-war movie ended up being. Bravo.

A few Runners-up (in no particular order): The Farewell (Lulu Wang); The Dead Don't Die (Jim Jarmusch); Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach); Jojo Rabbit (Taika Waititi); Booksmart (Olivia Wilde); Dolemite is My Name (Craig Brewer); Her Smell (Alex Ross Perry); Fighting With My Family (Stephen Merchant); The Beach Bum (Harmony Korine); The Last Black Man in San Francisco (Joe Talbot); & The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (Terry Gilliam).

That's it Gang. See Ya 'round the Web.

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