The Best Films of 2019.

The Best Films (that I saw) of 2019

I was hoping to see and log a few more films before publishing this, but due to this coronavirus situation, I think, as an aspiring critic, I should give my recommendations now; for the struggle of choosing what to watch may be more relevant now than ever with so many people staying at home or in quarantine.

Anyway, if you’re reading this, stay safe, stay home, wash your goddamn hands. Here’s the article as titled:

The time is now. The time for your pretentious hipster friends to rag on you for enjoying the new Spider-Man film and for not seeing Monos for the week or so it was actually playing in that one theater about forty-five minutes away from your house. Anyhow, this was a grandiose year for movies and filmmaking, with films stretched across genres and countries seeing riveting success with critics, audiences, and (surprisingly) the Academy, who gave out a Best Picture to a non-English film since the awards show began, (congratulations, Parasite), a benchmark in film history that I’m glad to be alive for.

Full disclosure, I work fulltime and I’m not made of time and money, so there are a few films that slipped under my radar. I’m yet to see The Souvenir or Richard Jewell or Star Wars, as well as a few others. To be frank, there’s never been a year in which I saw every film I wanted to see.

There’s also films that I simply don’t want to see as well. Frankly, I think I’ve fed the Disney live-action-remake-cash-cow enough with The Lion King, and that film was a monstrosity, so no, I don’t plan on seeing the new Aladdin or Dumbo no matter how much I may appreciate the likes of Tim Burton or Guy Ritchie. And I never bothered to sat through the first Frozen, so I also never bothered to see its sequel. Also, I will not be seeing Cats.

Here are a few films that I’ve deemed “the leftovers,” i.e. films that may’ve technically released in 2018 but I couldn’t see until 2019 (or even 2020). Exact release dates and the “official” year of a movie is often debatable, so I’ll just list a few of those films here (in order of quality):

5. The Nightingale – Director: Jennifer Kent – A revenge fantasy grounded in a grim reality. Depicting the process of grief, loss, and eventually the hope you get on the way out, The Nightingale is firing on many genre cylinders, including thriller, adventure, and, of course, tragedy. I’ve rarely seen any film that went to such lengths to have its audience gain sympathy for its protagonist, nor have I seen one in which I hated the villain this much. Jennifer Kent has the potential of being a great auteur of dark fiction with this film, as well as with her debut The Babadook.

4. Under the Silver Lake – Director: David Robert Mitchell – What a surreal adventure this film is! A must-see for fans of The Big Lebowski or Inherent Vice, two movies that were just as initially divisive as this one, which possibly slates director David Robert Mitchell as an upcoming surge of cinematic greatness. Taking notes from noir (both classic and Chinatown-esque) and stoner comedy, this mystery about a fundamentally poor man in his twenties trying to track down a one-night-stand might be the most adventurous film I’ve seen in a while.

3. At Eternity’s Gate – Julien Schnabel – When an artist becomes famous and influential worldwide after their own death, the little details of their life, the things that inspired the work in the first place, become all the more fascinating and elusive. Following a less popular theory on the death of the famous painter, At Eternity’s Gate follows Willem Dafoe as Vincent van Gogh in a transformative (and at times insane) journey as he navigates his painting and life, enduring distractions, the harassment and lack of compliance from others, and the demons of his own mind. Displaying renditions of the influences of van Gogh and many steps of his own painting process, this is a much more pleasing film than the other recent biopic of the painter’s life (Loving Vincent).

2. Burning – Director: Lee Chang-dong – The best Korean film of the decade, in my humble opinion. This was my first Lee Chang-dong experience, and since then I’ve explored all of his features, save for his debut (which I can’t find anywhere). This is, on the surface, a movie about a would-be writer who reconnects with a childhood acquaintance. First it’s a drama, then a romance, then a thriller, then something else entirely. This film explores basically whatever you want it to. Is it about class divide, jealousy, the yearning for some sense of purpose? I couldn’t tell you. The first time I saw Burning, I thought very little of it, but it has grown to become my all-time favorite Korean film.

1. Climax – Director: Gaspar Noe – The New French Extremity movement can pack up and leave now. It’s officially peaked. I didn’t see this film until March 2019, but, having said that, it caused me to entirely revise my perspective on 2018, the #1 spot being dethroned by Climax. This film is absolute insanity. With some of the most impressive long takes I’ve ever seen in my life and character actions that’ll ruin your day, your week, maybe even your month, this is the end-all be-all of psychological destruction. The antithesis of Kubrick’s 2001, it perfectly embodies the deterioration of human nature and abandons all things civilized. I wouldn’t know, but I’d bet to say that those who take psychedelics should abstain for the duration of Climax, should they want to maintain their sanity.

And here are some honorable mentions of 2019, in no order. Quality stuff, just not good enough to make the cut:

Doctor Sleep – Director: Mike Flanagan – I never thought we’d see something like a worthy sequel to a Kubrick film. I’d still never think that, but Doctor Sleep was pretty close. Doctor Sleep walks a tightrope between King and Kubrick, originality and nostalgia. All for the sake of a story that may not wow audiences, but may grant them that Stephen King warmth that King himself wanted to see in Kubrick’s vision.

Shazam! – Director: David F. Sandberg – It’s about damn time. A quality DCEU flick. This film is childish, sure, juvenile even, but it manages to carry about a maturity in its craft. If only that maturity were carried in the special effects and budgetary departments.

-Fighting With My Family – Director: Stephan Merchant – Florence Pugh has been proving more than capable at handling all fronts with this heartfelt WWE comedy, alongside Aster’s Midsommar.

Avengers: Endgame – Director: Joe Russo, Anthony Russo – So I haven’t seen Star Wars, but heard horrible things, and the ending of Game of Thrones bombed. So even if the MCU goes into decline after this, lets view Endgame as the spiritual finale to the sci-fi/fantasy/superhero saga.

First Love – Director: Takishi Miike – Miike might very well be the Robert Rodriguez of Japan. Fun and bloody albeit overtly convoluted, First Love is a hit from a hit-or-miss filmmaker.

The Farewell – Director: Lulu Wang – Who knew Awkwafina could act? Anyway, this film, while being nothing particularly special, manages to find time to make us feel a full range of emotions via a Chinese practice that most Americans would view as bizarre.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark – Director: Andre Ovredal – A horror gateway drug for the kids.

Ready or Not – Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillet – Humor black as coal, this movie is a prime example of a B-movie being fully aware of its status in the spectrum of films.

Queen & Slim – Director: Melina Matsoukas – A lack of subtlety made up for with great characters and a heartbreaking finale.

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie – Director: Vince Gilligan – A proper send-off to one of television’s most beloved characters.

Pain & Glory – Director: Pedro Almodovar – Didn’t quite make the cut for me to be in my “top” films, but still manages to be the second-best 2019 film about a seasoned character in the movies. This film makes me love what I’ve seen by Almodovar all the more and crave his remaining filmography.

Yesterday – Director: Danny Boyle – A bit of a downgrade for Danny Boyle, although still manages to be heartfelt, humorous, and at times romantic—just like the music of the Beatles.

Little Women – Director: Greta Gerwig – So I didn’t fall in love with this film like I thought I was supposed to, finding it to be too in-your-face with its cheesy dialog and general wholesomeness. Nevertheless, it depicts what I’m told to be a classic story without compromise, helmed by actresses of talent and a director whose talents are still blossoming. Still doesn’t excuse the lame rom-com ending though.

And, without further ado, my favorite films of 2019:

25. The King – Director: David Michôd – I never saw War Machine. It looked silly and stupid. I saw the trailer and assumed Michôd had reached a career peak with his awesomely apocalyptic The Rover in 2014. Despite this, whether or not War Machine is any good is irrelevant when talking about this vast Shakespearean effort. Like Us, it manages to feel both personal and have a scope of grandiosity; the kind you’d expect from a film entitled The King. When recollecting this film, a full month after seeing it, the shot that comes to mind is that of one where a battle is depicted; the frame is shot from above and filled with knighted men butchering their way through one another in heroic efforts. A part of all of us wants to be king, except of course Timothee Chalamet, who embodies the age-old archetype of a humble and easygoing young man thrust into power seemingly at random. From naturalistic dialog that maintains its Shakespearean roots to its balancing the beauty of nature and the grotesqueness of war, this is one of the many Netflix films worth watching.

24. Knives Out – Director: Rian Johnson – I expected this movie to be cheesy and abhorrent. Thankfully I was only half-right. This film is glorious in its camp factors. It redeems Johnson for his preceding Star Wars film and it’s one of the best blockbusters of the year. Knowing we’ve seen Daniel Craig as James Bond, Johnson casts him as a man with a Southern drawl that drapes over the characters that write him off in the film’s beginning. Ana de Armas’ character has a condition that may not exist, puking when she lies, and if that weren’t enough, there are several left turns and revelations that feel to be two hours too early in the film. And yet, we forgive these things because Johnson has crafted this film with a confidence that simply wasn’t there when he made Star Wars. An all-star cast plays the family, so the culprit’s identity is basically anyone’s game. The best whodunnit in years, and possibly my favorite role of Craig’s.

23. The Lodge – Director: Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala – A film with equally cold insides and outsides. This taut and familial psychological horror follows two reluctant children joining their future stepmother to a trip to the family lodge, in a snowy location, but as the pasts of the characters (particularly that of Riley Keough’s) begin to unravel, we dip into the age-old themes of our demons being revisited but in a way that’s both refreshing and eerie. Jaeden Martell proves once again (after It) to be an up-and-coming talent to keep eyes on as he plays the withheld but caring older brother in a sibling bond that is tested by Keough’s character. But the best part of this horror film lies in its mysteries. This film does not spoon-feed its audience, and just the right amount is left unsaid, and when the credits roll, you’ll sit there as cold as the cabin in the woods. “Repent.”

22. Sorry We Missed You – Director: Ken Loach – A man’s gotta work. That can be seen as the message or the caution of the newest Ken Loach tale. This film was my introduction to Loach, whose other work apparently also deals with the impoverished and the unlucky. This may have one of the simplest premises of any film on this list—a blue-collar family’s patriarch gets a new job, and must balance this work with his familial and personal life. It sounds derivative, sure, but it sucks you in better than most films of such a nature. Its presentation is documentary-esque and hyper-realistic; even the little girl does a tremendous job. Subplots grow subtly in the background of this working stiff’s home life and slowly invade his working one, immersing us in pity, sorrow, and all too much relatability. It is reminiscent of the Dardenne brothers’ work in a few ways, particularly its anguished and bleak outlook on life, especially in a tearjerker of an ending.

21. Us – Director: Jordan Peele – Get Out earned me initial curiosity in Peele, both as a filmmaker and as a director, but with Us, he officially has my interest. With a unique blend of social satire and good old-fashioned horror trope entertainment, this movie manages to bend genres, tell a compelling story with tremendous scope and fascinating (and oftentimes humorous) characters. Peele is one of three horror filmmakers to have had a terrific sophomoric effort in 2019, and Us being the weakest of the three is a testament to the quality of the year we’ve had for movies.

20. A Hidden Life – Director: Terrence Malick – My first theatrical experience with Malick, and a grand return-to-form it was. It seems he was going for a trilogy with his most recent experimental productions, and is now returning to narrative filmmaking. Even though this film stumbles upon its scenery and depictions of romance (as Malick films often do), that doesn’t stop it from telling a story that is both grandiose and minimalist, raising the simplest questions of morality, while also playing into Malick’s personal tastes of nature, religion, and, as Roger Ebert would put it, “The overarching majesty of the world.”

19. The Irishman – Director: Martin Scorsese – Great. Just what we needed. Another mob epic from Martin Scorsese that stars Robert De Niro. Hell; if they can keep pulling it off this well when they’re deep in their nineties, I wish them the best of luck. Of the four mob epics Scorsese has directed (including this one), each seem to touch on different themes, all corresponding with the juxtaposition of morality and immorality, crime and the law, good ol’ good vs. evil, and what that constant battle can do to people. For Henry Hill it eventually made him an outcast to both sides of the law and put him in protective care indefinitely. For Frank Sheeran, however, it brought about a loneliness and emptiness that no money nor woman nor power could cure. The final shot haunts me to this very moment (spoilers ahead); it’s as though Frank is waiting for Pacino’s Hoffa to burst through that door at any moment and welcome him with open arms, as if nothing had happened. Including this film, I’ve seen extensive de-aging three times at the movies this year (It: Chapter 2 and Captain Marvel) and this one, despite taking place over the course of multiple decades, does it so organically and gracefully, that at a certain point, you forget it’s a factor and just become immersed in this morally gray world that Scorsese has created.

18. Atlantics – Director: Mati Diop – One of the eeriest romances I’ve ever witnessed, and one of the strongest feature debuts I’ve seen in a while. It opens with a young girl, set to marry someone in her financial class, yet smitten with a poorer laborer. You think you’ve seen this story before, but I assure you, you haven’t. It is a tale of lost love, gender and class oppression, and the frustrations of youth. Laced with melancholy and tragedy, yet somehow also with hopefulness, Diop has crafted quite possibly the best ghost story of the year with Atlantics. Bong Joon-Ho mentioned in his GGA speech about how breaking down the language barrier of subtitles can improve one’s perspective on cinema, and this is the exact type of cinema I wanted to see from other countries; the kind that takes foreign mythologies and not only educates us on them, but expands on them in the cinematic medium.

17. I Lost My Body – Director: Jeremy Clapin – One of the few animated films I watched in 2019, I Lost My Body is not a family film, nor should it’s viewing be restricted by one’s age; it is not terribly supernatural, but it falls under the realm of fantasy; and it’s not quite a tale of realism, but it is one we can all relate to. Despite its more mature moments, I found a certain whimsical and warmhearted nature in Jeremy Clapin’s feature debut, and unlike the Pixar and Disney films, this one does not hesitate to make bold choices for its hero, played by Hakim Faris (Dev Patel in the English dub). This film exists as a testament to what can be done when a mature and introspective writer/director is at the helm of an animated movie, using the drawn content to its full extent, while also capturing humans in their natural element; there’s only so many filmmakers who can manage the tightrope walk between whimsy and realism; Brad Bird and Hayao Miyazaki are a couple—Jeremy Clapin may be another.

16. Marriage Story – Director: Noah Baumbach – The concept as old as time—the disintegrating marriage. We’ve seen it been tackled by the greats (Bergman, Cassavetes), even the simply “good,” (Cianfrance), and Baumbach’s attempt lands somewhere between the great and the good. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johannsen give their performances of the year (or even decade?) as a struggling couple who are only forcibly glued together by their surprisingly well-acted child Henry, played by Azhy Robertson. What’s also surprising about Marriage Story is just how humorous it manages to be while unfolding its tragedy of two decent human beings falling apart and flexing their ugliest selves before each other’s eyes. While Baumbach is possibly the leading figure of the naturalistic and comedic mumblecore movement, he rarely gets credit for his comedies, including the comedy in Marriage Story. While some characters are indeed caricatures meant to be humorous, they are oftentimes a breath of fresh air from the tense and tear-duct-tightening scenes surrounding said characters’ moments. As of this writing, it’s the most emotional and best Netflix original of the year.

15. Ad Astra – Director: James Gray – I’ve never seen The Lost City of Z or The Immigrant but now I’d rapidly accept the opportunity to see such works as James Gray startled and struck me with both a simultaneous childlike wonder and a feeling of pure terror with his latest adventure. Although it may borrow elements of 2001 and Apocalypse Now (and not quite live up to either film), this film manages to outdo other space dramas with its patience and subdued performances by Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones. Although its pacing suffers during a few scenes and its ending is more definite than many would appreciate, James Gray proves to be a man with a vision and highly adventurous intentions.

14. Monos – Director: Alejandro Landes – I’d never heard of Landes before this movie, and, in fact, I wasn’t too keen on seeing it in the first place. I saw it on a whim during a night of boredom, knowing only that it had the recommendations of the likes of Iñárritu and del Toro. The result was something heartbreaking and disturbing. Child soldiers in total isolation with an imprisoned woman—the possibilities are endless and in the course of 103 minutes most of them are explored. Both the fierce and fragile loyalty of children, as well as their fragile perspectives are on display in Monos. While the film raises more questions than answers, its final shot implies that Landes wants us to have discussions about the morality of the circumstances, how far away we are from a similar vision, and what the hell happened after the camera cut to black.

13. Joker – Director: Todd Phillips – Being a fan of the comic-book genre, I expected to like Joker. I did not expect to love it as I did, however. I consider this to be a big step for the genre (a genre that even I’m growing wary of), its realistic and brute depictions of violence paired with a display of a man’s downward spiral (i.e. early Scorsese). This film doesn’t follow the traditions of a comic-book film script (‘must include an action sequence every six pages’), instead taking notes from Taxi Driver and other gritty character studies. They give Joker a name – Arthur Fleck – and instead of shriveling at the notion of upsetting the uppity fans of the source material, this film embraces itself as a glorious standalone piece of art, whose boldness could even be admitted by its detractors. And it’s not without its messages; mental health is still to this day seen as a “touchy” subject. This film asks “Isn’t it time we address this?” I still maintain that most of its negative critics went in with the intention of resisting it.

12. Jojo Rabbit – Director: Taika Waititi – While this understated little gem could, at first, easily be considered a “Wes Anderson-wannabe” there’s no denying the audacity of its satire, the multi-talents of Waititi, and the bizarre warmth that it seduces you with along the way. I didn’t expect this movie to be so emotional given the trailer, but it slowly evolved into one of the best films of 2019. It introduces the new talents of Roman Griffin Davis as the young Jojo, convinced he’s a Nazi when in actuality he’s just a blank slate of a child, and Thomasin McKenzie, whose career I expect to flourish even further when she completes the project she has with Edgar Wright. Jojo Rabbit would have not been great, but only decent, if it weren’t for its director starring alongside Davis and McKenzie as the most hilarious depiction of Adolf Hitler I’ve seen to date; but he did so. And therefore, it is great.

11. In Fabric – Director: Peter Strickland – The second-weirdest film I saw all year was the giallo-laced bloodlust-fueled In Fabric, a film that I only saw due to an advance screening in a neighboring city. Featuring two primary stories, a whole gallery of commentary about consumerism and vanity, and humor blacker than the winter solstice, there’s not a lot missing from In Fabric. In the center of all this a haunted dress, worn both for beauty and as a joke, neither scenario ending well for the wearers. Film critic Mark Kermode called this film “all Peter Strickland” in style, saying that it would take a certain amount of laziness to compare this style to that of David Lynch. It was this statement and this film that compelled me to begin watching Strickland’s very limited (and very bizarre) filmography, and it’s the small gems like this one reignite the idea that suffering through lesser films is all worth it to find gems like this.

10. Midsommar (Director’s Cut) – Director: Ari Aster – The first time I saw Midsommar in theaters, I was admittedly weary, as I was with Aster’s preceding film. I gave it three out of four stars and argued that Aster was yet to peak as a filmmaker. But whether critics acknowledge it or not, opinions change. I suspected it may have been better than I gave it credit for, and, when I saw the director’s cut, these suspicions were confirmed. This film, like many greats, is about many things, but mostly about what it’s like to be an outsider and the accompanying loneliness. The third act may look like random occurrences but when you look behind the curtain, you can see a multitude of influences from real-life communes and cults, adding a thick layer of authenticity to Aster’s sophomore feature. In both his films Aster creates tension and horrors in the most relatable of subjects. And shreds our nerves in the process. He may not be a master of terror quite yet, but he is a master of grief, and all the screaming moans of despair that come with it.

9. Honey Boy – Director: Alma Har’el – I’d be lying if I called this a revolutionary piece of filmmaking. That said, I’d also be lying if I were to downplay the promise of this new (narrative) filmmaker. I never would have guessed that an autobiographical film by Shia LaBeouf would be good, let alone rank so high upon such a list, but here we are. This film’s ranking is not a testament to anything new, but to the age-old tradition of the movies eliciting an emotional reaction from its audience. It’s easy for one who attends movie theaters regularly to become disoriented and jaded with the craft to the extent that they forget why they’re there at all. Films like Honey Boy remind us.

8. 1917 – Director: Sam Mendes – Birdman meets Dunkirk, Mendes is back. One of the simplest movies of the year in regards to objective, 1917 tells the tale of two soldiers delivering a message across enemy lines. All of the film’s scenes were woven together artfully by cinematic legend Roger Deakins to look like a singular continuous shot, and not a moment feels wasted. Bogged down by a few plot devices and conveniences, sure, but this story manages to be epic in scope and personal in its deliverance. This film is based in part on historical retellings of Sam Mendes’ own grandfather, adding in the distinct vision of an auteur, which is a lot to say of a former James Bond director.

7. The Last Black Man in San Francisco – Director: Joe Talbot – Every frame is picturesque beauty. Never would’ve I thought that a true-to-life feel-good story would make the top 10 movies of the year, but first-time director Joe Talbot has convinced me. On the surface it’s about a young man who wants to have his grandfather’s house, but if you peer right underneath this surface, there’s a vast array of themes—purpose, race, masculinity, friendship, gentrification, legacy, it’s all there. And it’s all woven together by possibly the best directing and camerawork I’ve seen in a film all year. I went into this experience weary and uncertain, thinking it’d be pandering its themes and telling a half-assed story. About five minutes later I realized I was wrong.

6. Uncut Gems – Director: Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie – Even though Good Time lived up to its title, it admittedly left me a bit cold. Having seen three other films by the Safdie brothers, I now believe that to be the point of their films. They’re about the morally ambiguous, self-destructive Yankees who ultimately doom themselves in the end. And with Uncut Gems, I theorize that the pair have reached their peak with this trend, that they have scoured the mountaintop of their self-made genre and that there will never be a better film of such a concoction. Adam Sandler gives the best performance of his career (beating even Punch-Drunk Love) as a manic, eccentric and ultimately selfish jeweler who seems to owe about half the city of New York various amounts of money. This is not so much a film about the value of a dollar, however, and more one about the idea of luck and randomness, one of the films that seem to propose that we are insignificant specks hurling through an indifferent universe. Scary to think about, maybe, but what a rush this movie is.

5. The Lighthouse – Director: Robert Eggers – The best sophomore effort and the best horror film of the year. Robert Pattinson, an actor whose “prospects” of the craft I’d scoff at ten years prior, (spoilers) makes analogies about (literally) fucking steaks and is convinced there’s a mermaid out on the shore and treats Willem Dafoe like a dog; Willem Dafoe, who, in turn, gets treated like a dog and buried alive, only does so after pseudo-romantic moments with Pattinson and talking nonstop and farting in several consecutive scenes. The weirdest film of the year that we just can’t get enough of. Bergmanesque enough to be a film from about forty years ago, themes and male-on-male sexuality modern enough to have been made yesterday, and utter chaos in every frame make The Lighthouse the current undisputed peak of the new wave of arthouse horror that the world is receiving.

4. Portrait of a Lady on Fire – Director: Celine Sciamma – “Rich” is the key word when describing director Celine Sciamma’s latest effort about a forbidden and doomed romance. Rich in character, nuance (both visual and screenplay nuance), and visuals, there is not a single cylinder unfired in Portrait of a Lady on Fire. The story is Tokyo Story levels of simple; a painter goes to an island with the intent of depicting a young woman shortly before her marriage. The young woman is reluctant to be married, even more so to be painted, so the painter must pretend to be a friend first. She’s a painter first, then a friend, then something else entirely to this young woman in the most heart-wrenching and tortuous depictions of love I’ve seen in 2019. Heavily employing a static camera, it oftentimes resembles Kubrick’s often unsung Barry Lyndon, the film looks very much like a painting from centuries ago. This film called to mind two other films—Phantom Thread, for its restrained yet passionate affair, and Call Me By Your Name, not for its LTBTQ elements but for its naturalistic approach to a period-piece romance. And I think this film exceeds them both. This is a special film.

3. Parasite – Director: Bong Joon-Ho – The best Asian film of the year. A story that begins as a light comedy unravels into the dramatic, the tragic, the off-kilter, and even the horrific and absurd. A lingering question I love to toy with regarding Parasite is the exact nature of its title. Is it referring to the impoverished family that slowly infects the richer one? Is it an indicator to the housekeeper’s secrets? Or is it just about an insect dilemma the primary family suffers from? The Korean New Wave has been kind to us, with the likes of Joon-Ho and company taking the likes of social dilemmas and tragedies to new heights and even interjecting humor into the mix.

2. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – Director: Quentin Tarantino – This movie is simply incredible. I say this not as one who aspires to be involved in filmmaking, nor one who aspires to critique them professionally, but as simply someone who loves the craft and the business, from the artistry to the trashiness of it. Leonardo DiCaprio presents my favorite of all his characters (who, according to the director, has an undiagnosed bipolar illness), Rick Dalton, a fading star in Hollywood who can’t decide which is worse—disappearing from relevance or starring in Spaghetti Westerns. Brad Pitt brings forth all his charisma as a man who (spoilers) may have just killed his wife. Despite this, he is oftentimes showing a caring and compassionate side, content with a modest trailer lifestyle with his loyal dog. And finally, there’s the true-to-life aspect of the film, Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate, a woman who gradually earns both the audience’s adoration and suspense in her minimal odyssey of growing stardom. We think we know what’s coming in those final twenty minutes, but no matter how many times we may have watched Inglourious Basterds, there is no logical way to prepare ourselves for the howling laughter of what’s to come. Upon its release, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood immediately became my contender for top film of 2019 and it was not once surpassed until very recently. I asked myself a multitude of times if this was based on any bias (or even fanboyism) toward the director who made me so interested in cinema in the first place; and during said considerations, I’d simply remember the passion and effort put into all the old-Hollywood settings and landscapes, the little attentions to detail in every frame, and its walk between realism and fantasy, ceasing to question myself thereafter. The bridge between the Golden Age of Hollywood and New Hollywood has never looked so beautiful, nor does the ever-lingering question of “What could have been?” So far I’ve seen this film on four separate occasions, I’d love to see it again, and, as it stands, it is my second favorite film of Tarantino’s.

1. Waves – Director: Trey Edward Shults – An emotional soundscape. I can’t think of a single person who wouldn’t get something out of Waves. Tackling several themes that can also be found in Honey Boy and The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Waves uses the simplest of details like the alternating of the aspect ratios to tell the story from frequently differentiating perspectives and moods. Director Trey Edward Shults (who managed to make his debut feature with a cast of his friends and family) takes visual notes from modern Malick and quite possibly the early Southern films of David Gordon Green in a familial tale of tragedy and forgiveness. Taking place in two halves, the film, much like its title, pulls and tugs at your expectations and emotional reactions at the events onscreen, making its South Florida location all the more relevant. Shults proves himself to be an aficionado of popular music as well, with a near-constant and frankly loud soundtrack featuring the likes of Frank Ocean, Animal Collective and Alabama Shakes. And visually there is an explosive color palette to perfectly compliment every setting and surrounding present in every frame (a stark contrast to Shults’ last feature). While I cannot promise this to be a life-changing experience, I can promise that your emotional capacities will be tested upon entering this film. It’s with Shults’ Waves (alongside Krisha and It Comes at Night) that give him an officially diverse albeit high-quality filmography, and cement him as one of cinema’s most prominent talents. This is the best movie of 2019, and that says a lot.

-JCE, 2020

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