Top 10 of 2019

2019 wound up being a more interesting year than the first six or so months would have led one to believe. There are only three movies on my final list that were released in or before June and only two that I actually saw during those first six months of the year. This, of course, isn't to say nothing of note was released in the first half of 2019 as there were certainly contenders for my top 10 released during those months such as Midsommar, John Wick, Yesterday, The Farewell, The Dead Don't Die and The Aftermath, but more that the overall quality of releases increased significantly in the second half of the year to a point the second half seems to have vastly outweighed the first. This has made it difficult to narrow things down to a finite ten films that I will hopefully consider to still be "favorites" in the years to come. And that is ultimately the lesson I've learned this year in that the subjectivity of these lists is so vast and somewhat superfluous to the point one shouldn't feel a pressure to include films others have labeled as "important"" or "the best", but instead they should include the films that feel-ya know-the most personal to the person making said list. These kinds of lists would also always fare better were they put together in a couple years time rather than in a rush in the last few days of the year as one is attempting to cram in all the end-of-year awards contenders while also catching up on everything that might have been missed throughout the year. Of course, there will be those that slip through the cracks-I'm mad at myself for not yet having caught titles like Luce, Her Smell, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, Monos and Fast Color-though I made as valiant an effort as I possibly could, but naturally still managed to miss more than I would have liked to. Along with the point I was trying to make earlier about a composite list of pre-ordained "best of" films comes the fact there will certainly be what some would consider glaring omissions on my list given you've likely heard a lot about them over the course of the last few months and the fact they will certainly make many others year-end lists. I liked Little Women, but didn't fall in love with it; the same could be said of Marriage Story as well as Portrait of a Lady on Fire. 1917 is legitimately a wonder and I completely understand why it will win all of the awards, but is it a film I personally fell in love with and will re-visit time and time again? Probably not. The Irishman, for all there is to adore with it, simply didn't connect with me in a way that I was either incredibly moved or incredibly wowed by. Insightful? Sure. Handsomely crafted and acted? Of course, but it's not the Scorsese I'll point to when someone asks for a recommendation. I couldn't agree more that each of these films possess inspired moments-moments that transcend the art form even-yet much of the conversation around these feel of the moment and what follows are films I hope will remain a part of my life for much longer.

10. Ready or Not - Brutal to its core with as much blood as a Tarantino feature, Ready or Not fuses that tricky tone of violence and irreverence into a wild, ninety-minute experience. This isn't anything you haven't seen before, especially if you keep current with the horror genre, but it is so aware of what it is and so expertly crafted to be the best version of itself that everything about it feels original and raw.

9. The Last Black in San Francisco - The Last Black Man in San Francisco is truly about this sense of history and this need to honor places and people who have become myths in their own right as their stories have been reconfigured as they've been passed down; the myth becoming more and more layered and further and further from the truth as it goes from one generation to the next. This abstract, dreamlike presentation of the past not being the best indicator for what should dictate ones future. A film to be experienced almost more than it is to be discussed.

8. Dark Waters - Dark Waters is not only compelling and exquisitely crafted, but is terrifying as hell. A true wake-up call to a nation that has subscribed to the fact everything they consume probably causes cancer in one way or another. It's a shame this will get overlooked come awards season and not because it deserves the prestige (though it does), but because it won't be afforded the publicity that would garner more interest from the average movie-goer. It's a shame more people won't see this because I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since I did.

7. Booksmart - Much of the perspective on this seems to be focused on how it and its stars will be perceived down the road and what Booksmart will come to represent in their careers. Whether it be the one that introduced them to the world, the one they'll never get away from, or the one that may not be their best or biggest, but will always be most people's favorite. Sure, Booksmart is likely to become any and all of these things just as it will undoubtedly become a staple of sleepovers for the current generation of high-schoolers, but the magic is in why it will become these things: the characters themselves.

6. Joker - Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix have intentionally crafted as gritty, raw and grounded a movie as any film inspired by comic books has dared to be and in that type of portrayal there is inherent shock to be found, but while Joker and its screenplay wrestle with what exactly it's trying to say it stands to make a statement about how this product of certain circumstance inspires a man to become what he believes necessary to remedy others from those same, undesirable circumstances. That's not to say he's right, but what is maybe most unsettling about the film and Phoenix's performance is that Arthur believes he is.

5. Parasite - Parasite's calculated blend of drama, comedy, satire and unbelievable tension give way to scenarios in which the rich and poor see the same circumstances with vastly different perspectives; one recognizing what is being done to them as a con or crime while the other viewing it simply as a means to an end...survival, in other words. Director Bong Joon-ho ultimately alludes to the fact that the poor-no matter the lengths of their tactics or the subtleties of their actions-still find themselves figuratively buried if not literally, by the world and by the ramifications of their actions.

4. Avengers: Endgame - The culmination of eleven years and twenty-two films worth of story, Avengers: Endgame brings to a conclusion one of the greatest experiments in cinematic history and does so with as much grace and satisfaction as one might hope or expect a single moment to capture. That isn't to say there aren't a few hiccups along the way, but what is here to complain about feels so quaint in comparison to what the film gets right that they hardly seem worth mentioning.

3. Once Upon a Hollywood - As someone who's never visited California or more specifically, Hollywood, and as someone who wasn't born until nearly two decades after the year in which Once Upon a Hollywood takes place there were no personal nostalgic ties to what is very clearly a very nostalgic movie for its writer and director. I love the movies as in "the movies", sure, both for their fascinating behind the scenes processes as well as certain aspects of the business, but it isn't necessarily any one thing in Hollywood that makes it special. Rather, its the effect each of these elements have on one another; the meticulous re-creation of 1969 informed and enhanced the performances of these fictional characters which were in turn heightened in the context of the film by the real-life events that writer/director Quentin Tarantino weaves through his narrative so as to create a sense of familiarity while still holding tight to the destination he's driving towards. Ultimately, this stands as one of Tarantino's best, most introspective works as it delivers the feeling one wants to leave the theater with after having experienced a Tarantino flick while the experience in and of itself is something of an unexpected and surprisingly soulful one.

2. Knives Out - With Knives Out, writer/director Rian Johnson reels you in under the guise the mystery is to be one thing, but the real mystery here isn’t what you suspect it to be and in breaking through this anticipated belief early on Johnson allows himself to not only deliver on the promise of a good “whodunit”, but layer in his characters and their revelations with pertinent commentary as to the sense of entitlement certain people feel.

1. Uncut Gems - What is maybe the best aspect of the exceptional Uncut Gems is the fact that yes, this is very much Adam Sandler doing something outside of his standard routine, but this isn't Sandler playing serious simply for the sake of proving he can in fact act when the material calls for it. No, this isn't sad or depressed Sandler simply for the sake of being taken seriously, but instead writer/directors the Safdie Brothers (Good Time) have somehow lured the Sandman into giving both a layered, physical performance while also remaining one that plays off the inherent charm and charisma Sandler naturally possesses. Moreover, he's used perfectly here. So perfect in fact, it's hard to imagine anyone else in this role besides Sandler. Uncut Gems is not necessarily what one might think of as a rewarding experience, but it bears so many gifts and moments to cherish throughout that the stress inherent to them feels like little more than the price one must pay for such a high.

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