Ten Best/Favorite Movies of 2019
In 2019, a year awash in hypocrisy and the emasculation of truth, one depended even more on movies to provide integrity, creativity, and humanity. The best films made the humanity live and breathe.
They rescued truth.
- Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood: For two hours, one asked "where is Tarantino's edge?" And Tarantino did avoid any humanity in hippies - he treated them like Nazis. But the last half hour is Quentin Tarantino at his best. History books change history. Tarantino destroys it - with panache. He's cheeky - with a bloody tongue in cheek.
- Ford v Ferrari: An entertainment gem. It is quality on every level. It has star power - Christian Bale and Mark Damon. It has formidable direction by Rob Mangold, and a character-driven-screenplay. It's an engrossing story, with a great engine.
- Joker: Just when you think a concept has been drained and can't go any further, along comes a fresh, unforgettable rendition. Caesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, and Heath Ledger step aside. Joaquin Phoenix has vaulted to places you didn't go. Phoenix shocked and startled us. Joaquin and director Todd Phillips humanized the character in a crazy way. Joker probably is not a film you can like, but it's one impressive achievement. Joaquin Phoenix is the man. Holy Oscar, Batman.
- A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: Every year I look for a movie I can recommend to everybody. This is it. Tom Hanks shines in a supporting role as Mr. Rogers. Hanks finds a human way into Fred Rogers - he features the quality of Rogers being a listener. Matthews Rhys is credible as the journalist who seeks the truth about Mr. Rogers, and finds out about the truth about himself. Marielle Heller directed with an occasionally contrived tender touch, but Hanks prevails.
- Portrait of a Lady on Fire: This French film about the relationship between two women is not for everybody, but it is for a larger audience than it might seem. It has an evocative resonance. Director/writer Celine Sciamma is a creative force, and in actress Adele Haenel (her former partner), she has a muse. Together they create a work of art.
- Making Waves: the Art of Cinematic Sound: As the decade comes to an end, documentaries are prevailing. This is one of the most informative. After you see this movie, you'll probably never hear a movie the same again. Directed by sound veteran and professor Midge Costin, this film is what a documentary can do. It changes our awareness.
- The Irishman: Director Marty Scorsese returns to his urban roots and the mentality of mobsters. As always, he makes a personal film, although it may not seem so. It takes years for Scorsese's percolating vision to reach a boil. History waits for the master. This film is still in the percolating stage.
- The Two Popes: Writing does matter. Veteran screenwriter Anthony McCarten gives his two leading actors spirited dialogue. Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins - as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio and Pope Benedict - give it the eloquence it deserves. Fernando Meirelles doesn't get in their way. Religion is humanized. What a concept.
- Richard Jewell: This is director Clint Eastwood's best film in years. It is surprisingly vital and suspenseful. It should please most audiences, but they've not been enticed into theaters. One problem is that the film's treatment of an actual character has been criticized for taking liberties (Liberarian?). But Paul Walter Hauser is convincing as he brings an authentic, annoying quality to Jewell, and Sam Rockwell is terrific as Jewell's lawyer. With time, this is a picture that should grow in stature.
- 1917: This is a technical masterwork. The cinematography by Roger Deakins and editing by Lee Smith, under the direction of Sam Mendes, have created a "one shot" phenomenon. At first, it may seem to be a tours de force, but it's more than that. It's more than just capable. It's brilliant. The story of two British soldiers on a desperate mission becomes a visual odyssey.
May the best films of 2019 be a harbinger. May creativity, integrity, and humanity thrive. At least at the movies.