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Saturday, February 29, 2020

My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2019

I thought 2019 was an excellent year for film. Not only did we get an excellent Quentin Tarantino film, BUT we also got an excellent Martin Scorsese film. Two of the best filmmaker of ALL TIME releasing masterpieces months apart, how often does that happen? A lot of film years this past decade have been decently deep, but pretty light on top. Take 2012 for example. I ranked the films that year and talked about a whopping 20. But what was the best film year, even in retrospect? I had Looper at the time and still feel strongly about it, but my top five were Life of Pi, Silver Linings Playbook, Argo, and Wreck-It Ralph. Seven years later, is there a consensus best film of the year? (and go fuck yourself if you say The Master you pretentious snob). Point is, 2019 is different. I think it's crazy top heavy this year. Not only were Once Upon A Time... in Hollywood and The Irishman instant classics, we had a great Awards Season of Sam Mendes' 1917 vs. Bong Joon-ho's Parasite, both excellent in their own right. So where do these films rank on my list? I just you're just going to have to read below!

10) Ford v Ferrari
Directed By: James Mangold
Starring: Christian Bale & Matt Damon
STARS: 3 out of 4

Why It's Great: Sometimes movie stars just need to be movie stars and charm the fuck out of the audience. We knew Matt Damon was the cream of the crop and his character Carol Shelby gets to smile and charm his way to both Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) and our hearts. Christian Bale gets to play opposite Damon as the driver Ken Miles and he's equally as compelling. He doesn't need to gain or lose an unhealthy amount of weight and he even gets to use his real accent and proves he can act with Acting. Ford v Ferrari is just a charming, enjoyable experience and one I'm glad to have seen in the theaters. It's also another great notch in James Mangold's belt, because while he has some misses and a lot of *shoulder shrug emoji*, he now gets to add this Best Picture nominee to his other greats like 3:10 to Yuma and Logan to his resume.

9) Booksmart
Directed By: Olivia Wilde
Starring: Beanie Feldstein & Kaitlyn Dever
STARS: 3 out of 4

Why It's Great: I do get why the people behind Booksmart are a bit peeved when their film is called the female Superbad, but I do think it's the 2019 Superbad. Superbad came out when I was in college and I, like the rest of America, was swept away by it. I still fucking love the movie, but do understand that many of the jokes have not aged, and that movie as is would not be released by any major studio. But if a major studio were trying to capitalized on the success of Superbad in today's "woke climate", Booksmart would be the film released. Instead of the same white horny kid(s) at the center we have two horny women, one of which is gay. One of the main side characters is Black (Jessica Williams) along with one of the lead's crushes (who also happens to be the son of Cuba Cooding Jr). However, most importantly, no one in the film is mean. In the beginning of Superbad, one dude spits on Jonah Hill's character. Sure, some of the characters say some unflattering things about Beanie Feldstein's character, but it's mainly that she's not fun. The movie could have easily said things a million times worse. But that's what makes Booksmart so great. It takes 2019's sensibilities and is still able to mine laugh-out-loud humor that hold up upon rewatch. In an era of anti-bullying and demands for better representation in film, Booksmart is able to deliver AND still be gut-busting hilarious.

8) Under The Silver Lake
Written & Directed By: David Robert Mitchell
Starring: Andrew Garfield
STARS: 3 out of 4

Why It's Great: Under The Silver Lake is David Robert Mitchell's passion project after the success of his breakout horror film It Follows. UTSL is about slacker Sam (Garfield) as he tries to uncover conspiracies around attempt to find his crush Sarah (Riley Keough). It's an aimless LA travelogue in the vein of Inherent Vice or Mullholland Drive that I am personally not usually a fan of, but loved here. Even though storylines randomly drop off and disappear and don't go anywhere, I enjoyed Under The Silver Lake a lot on the strength of Garfield's performance. The film is ultimately about fans obsession with finding hidden meaning and Easter eggs with works of art (i.e. like a breakout horror movie) and I loved Mitchell's message of "fuck you" to the fans. The story on its face may not make sense, but lay back and relax and try to buy in to have a great time.

7) Rocketman
Directed By: Dexter Fletcher
Starring: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, & Richard Madden
STARS: 3 out of 4

Why It's Great: Rocketman was everything the critics claimed Bohemian Rhapsody to be and it irks me that the latter gets Academy love including a Best Actor win for Rami Malek when the former is much more interesting and inventive and Taron Egerton actually sings in his movie. Whereas Bohemian Rhapsody is a generic straight-forward telling of Queen and Freddy Mercury that happens to be dispersed with some of the greatest rock songs of all time, Rocketman elevates the musical-biopic genre. Elton John's public persona with full of life and over-the-top and that's what Rocketman is. The musical choices add depth to the character of Elton John and its sequences add vibrancy and illumination to the film as a whole. I'm not necessarily the biggest fan of Elton John's music (and in fact I infintely enjoy listening to Queen than I do Elton John), but Rocketman is the far superior film and #7 on my list of favorite films of 2019.

6) The Peanut Butter Falcon
Written & Directed By: Tyler Nilson & Michael Schwartz
Starring: Zach Gottsagen, Shia LaBeouf, & Dakota Johnson
STARS: 3.5 out of 4

Why It's Great: The Peanut Butter Falcon on paper appears to be your typical Indie/Sundance film. A small, coming-of-age, road trip story story featuring Shia LaBeouf. It checks all of the boxes. But what make The Peanut Butter Falcon so good is just how good and compelling the performances are, including its 34 year old star with Down Syndrome Gottsagen. Zach Gottsagen plays Zak, a young man forced to spend his days locked in a nursing home because he has no one else to take care of him. Obsessed with wrestling and looking for an adventure, he sneaks away from the home and runs into Tyler (LaBeouf) who is also lost and running away after he burnt down his enemies fishing dock (and unfortunately for him, the entire fishing dock of this small town). As Duncan (John Hawkes) is after Tyler and his caretaker at the nursing home Elanor (Johnson) tries to bring back Zak to the home, Tyler and Zak must sneak their way down the Eastern seaboard so Zak can meet his wrestling hero Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Hayden Church). Again, the plot of fine and all, but this movie is worth your time thanks to everyone's performances. Plus, between this and Honey Boy, Shia LeaBeouf just killed it this year.

5) Avengers: Endgame
Directed By: The Russo Brothers
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, & Josh Brolin
STARS: 3.5 out of 4

Why It's Great: 2019 will go down, in part, to the year franchises ended. Game of Thrones aired its eighth and final season in 2019 and Star Wars had Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker, a supposed end to the main Skywalker/Star Wars story. Both of those stories were strongly disliked and boo'd by their fans, which makes what Endgame accomplished that much more satisfying. To manage to make a 21-movie franchise within the span of 10 years or so is impressive in and of its own right, but make those stories weave in and out of each, to have each one make sense, and then come together in a way to have a, generally speaking, beloved and satisfying ending is borderline genius. Avengers: Endgame was a fun and enjoyable movie going experience and a theme park ride I was happy to partake in.

4) Parasite
Co-Written and Directed By: Bong Joon Ho
Starring: Song Kang Ho, Cho Yeo Jeong, & Choi Woo Shik
STARS: 3.5 out of 4

Why It's Great: Parasite, like it's title would seem to suggest, is a film that sticks with you. The more I think about it, the more I love this film, and I love thinking about the little details and nuances that Bong Joon Ho put into his masterpiece. As evidence by even his latest two films, Snowpiercer and Okja, Bong Joon Ho is obsessed with telling stories about capitalism and the wealth gap. But whereas Snowpiercer, a film where the poor are literally in the back of a train and have to fight their way from car to car to reach the wealthy front of the train, Parasite is a more nuanced and subtle way to look at this issue. The genius of Parasite is both that it's not preachy and there's no true villain. It's not that the rich family of the Parks are bad people and the poor family of the Kims are good (in fact, on its face is the opposite as members of the Kim family do something despicable acts to weasel their way into the good graces of the Parks), but Parasite tells a story of how the poor working class must do whatever it takes to survive.

3) 1917
Co-Written & Directed By: Sam Mendes
Starring: George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman
STARS: 3.5 out of 4

Why It's Great: It is extremely rare that I come out of a movie theater and go "Holy Shit, that was excellent!" but that's a feat that 1917 managed to accomplish. Filmed like it was shot in one take, 1917 tells the story of Lance Corporal Blake (Chapman) and Lance Corporal Schofield (MacKay) as they travel through the French countryside to warn another British battalion from attacking the Germans, as it is a trap. There are times where I wouldn't have minded a cut from here or there, but one-take gimmick really worked for me as it pushed the momentum forward. The first scene alone of watching our two main kids walk throughout the trenches was an incredible accomplishment. The action was amazing, but I also loved how it stopped to take human moments as well. Everything about 1917 was a spectacle and everything technical aspect, the production design, editing, sound, costume design, and acting, was legitimately-Oscar worthy. Like what Ford v Ferrari did for James Mangold's resume. 1917 added another legitimate notch in Sam Mendes' belt, and made it that much easier of a pill to swallow to think that this man is one of the few to earn a Best Director Academy Award.

2) The Irishman
Directed By: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, & Al Pacino
STARS: 4 out of 4

Why It's Great: The Gangster Epic Movie may have been started by Francis Ford Coppola with his Godfather Trilogy, but it was revolutionized by Martin Scorsese thanks to Goodfellas and Casino in the 1990's. Scorsese finished his own trilogy with The Irishman by adding Al Pacino to his mix of regulars of De Niro and Pesci. I'm not breaking any new ground by pointing out the laughably bad de-aging technology (and the technology certainly couldn't make an 80 year old De Niro not look 80 when he's supposed to be 30 curb stomping a local grocer), but once you get past the initial shock of a surprisingly smooth Robert De Niro face, you're greeted with an instant classic with Scorsese coming to terms of how his decades long run of putting violent white male rage out into the world. The Irshman is just like the technology that defines it. On the surface, everything is smooth and glossed over and you get to enjoy the life of Hitman of the Mob Frank Sheeran (De Niro) like you could any other Martin Scorsese film. But if you look under the surface to see 79 y/o Al Pacino, 76 y/o Joe Pesci, 76 y/o Robert De Niro, and 77 y/o Martin Scorsese, you realize you're watching great men reflect upon lives and are unsure if they made the right decisions.

1) Once Upon A Time... in Hollywood
Written & Directed By: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, & Margot Robbie
STARS: 4 out of 4

Why It's Great: Ironically, I had the opposite experience after seeing Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood as I did with 1917. I was blown away by the latter, but wasn't sure I even liked the former. But the more I thought about it, the more I heard other people think about it, and especially after seeing it again (and revisiting QT's entire filmography for that matter), I discovered the genius that is OUATIH and Quentin Tarantino. Once you realize you're not getting a typical Tarantino film, one with quippy, fun dialogue, pop culture references, and ultraviolence, and you're getting a hang out film more along the lines of Jackie Brown, you adjust yourself to story that QT wants to tell; the story of the death of Classic Hollywood (as represented by Leo's Rick Dalton) to make way for the New School of Hollywood (as represented by Robbie's Sharon Tate).

But ultimately, as Quentin Tarantino is the ultimate metatextual director (and narcissist), Once Upon A Time... in Hollywood is about himself. Just as 1969 was a turning point in the Hollywood system, 2019 represents another turning point with seemingly the rise of streaming services and Superhero films leading to the death of original cinema and it's culture. 1969 cinema is dying to make way for 2019 cinema. Quentin Tarantino is Rick Dalton; he is questioning whether or not he can survive in this new era. For the first and second act of the film, Quentin tries to subvert the audience's expectations of him. Take Brad Pitt's Cliff Booth's time at Spahn Ranch. It's a long, tense scene that normally ends with a burst of violence like the basement bar scene in Inglorious Basterds or the Jules and Vincent scene to grab the briefcase at the beginning of Pulp Fiction. But the scene in OUATIH doesn't end in violence. Cliff Booth drives away right before Tex arrives to fight him.

Ultimately though, Quentin Tarantino tells us his way of film making will always live on. The third acts begins with a handful of classic Hollywood landmarks like the Chinese Mann's Theater and Musso's & Frank's turning on the lights. This is Tarantino, now a fully cemented Hollywood legend, staying I'm shining bright and I'll always be a part of Hollywood. The montage of the landmarks leads to an entire night drawn out to lead what we think will be the death of Sharon Tate. It is the baseman bar scene in Basterds and the beginning scene of Pulp. It's a slow build up that ends in traditional Tarantino violence, and also includes a history changing event a la Basterds and Django Unchained. It's what we've come to expect from Quentin Tarantino. And when it's all said and done, it's Rick Dalton walking up that hill towards Hollywood glory, just like Quentin Tarantino will always live forever in Hollywood glory.