TOP 10 FILMS OF 2019

Posted by Matthew Thornton on Thursday, February 6, 2020



      2019 was a fantastic year in film as indicated by the number of films that I had in consideration for this list. Choosing the top ten was noticeably more challenging than last year. Thus, I have once again included the Honorable Mentions section so that no great movie (★★★½ or better) gets left out. And, of course, I have not forgotten the fan-favorite So-Bad-It’s-Good Award. I hope you all get a chance to see some subset of these movies and enjoy or appreciate them as much I do.


      This list is the ten best feature-length, non-documentary films I have seen that had US release dates in 2019.

10. Climax

Director: Gaspar Noé
Writers: Gaspar Noé
Starring: Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub
Runtime: 97 mins
MPAA Rating: R

      Climax is a descent into insanity. A group of dancers rehearsing together in their isolated club get drugged after drinking LSD-laced sangria and madness ensues. Guess what? You get to go on the nightmarish trip with them! French provocateur Gaspar Noé is the man responsible for this bizarre and mind-bending production that was shot in chronological order over the course of fifteen days in one building with no script and only one professional actress (Sofia Boutella). Outside of a masterfully choreographed opening dance number, essentially everything is improvised. The second half of the movie is comprised almost entirely of a continuous 42-minute single-take sequence where the camera does whatever it wants to do. I have no idea how an experience so terrifyingly entrancing was created by a man who was essentially making everything up as he went along. It all feels like one extended hallucination. No other movie has ever put me through a remotely similar experience as it legitimately gave me anxiety. Climax is one of the best movies that I will never be watching again. I cannot recommend it, but you are in for quite a time if you do.

RATING: ★★★★

9. The Irishman

Director: Martin Scorsese
Writers: Steven Zaillian (screenplay), Charles Brandt (book)
Starring: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci
Runtime: 209 mins
MPAA Rating: R

      Scorsese doing what he does best: the crime epic. This three-and-a-half-hour sprawling 20th-century story of a trucker-turned-hitman delivers an abundance of high-caliber acting and exquisite filmmaking from some of the best to ever be in the business. The long-awaited uniting of Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci together on screen does not disappoint as each one uniquely commands the screen. Despite the hefty runtime, the storytelling is energetic, well-paced, and never boring. Though it does not quite reach the heights of his best works such as Goodfellas (1990), Taxi Driver (1976), and Raging Bull (1980), The Irishman has every element that makes a Scorsese film great and capitalizes on its strengths. If you are interested in crime movies, you definitely do not want to miss this one. You have no excuse…it is on Netflix.

RATING: ★★★★

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8. Little Women

Director: Greta Gerwig
Writers: Greta Gerwig, Louisa May Alcott (based on the novel by)
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh
Runtime: 135 mins
MPAA Rating: PG

      In her sophomore feature-length writing and directing effort, Greta Gerwig once again demonstrates that she knows how to translate female humanity onto the screen. An adaptation of the classic 1868 novel by Louisa May Alcott, Little Women details the lives of four sisters Meg (Emma Watson), Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Amy (Florence Pugh), and Beth (Eliza Scanlen) who must transition from childhood to womanhood in trying economic circumstances. Every character plays a crucial role in the story which covers a large span of years, but it is Ronan’s Jo, an aspiring writer, who is ostensibly the main character as she fights to carve out a life for herself when she does not meet many of the traditional expectations of a female in the time period. Ronan’s standout performance within Gerwig’s sharp screenplay elevates this movie to the heights that it reaches. In the hands of most directors, this film would have been extraordinarily boring. However, Gerwig imparts warmth and sincerity to the relationships at the core of the story which draw you in on an emotional level. Additionally, there is energy and vibrance to the characters, and it is an enjoyable experience watching them grow throughout the film. Gerwig widens the scope of her direction and shows that she is highly capable at directing many actors in complicated situations. Little Women is a top-notch production that artfully, thoughtfully, and entertainingly presents femininity, and I am highly anticipating Gerwig’s future work.

RATING: ★★★★

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7. Pain and Glory

Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Writers: Pedro Almodóvar
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Asier Etxeandia, Leonardo Sbaraglia
Runtime: 113 mins
MPAA Rating: R

      An extremely heartfelt offering from Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar featuring a career-best performance from Antonio Banderas. The movie is equal parts style and substance. The story thoughtfully dissects the soft-spoken but deeply emotionally distraught film director Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) on the wrong side of his career peak. Ultimately, this film is about a man searching for catharsis with regards to all the meaningful relationships he has had throughout his life. The artistry of the production, and the emotional complexity that is put into the main character of Salvador make this a fascinating character study that most adults should be able to appreciate.

RATING: ★★★★

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6. Waves

Director: Trey Edward Shults
Writers: Trey Edward Shults
Starring: Taylor Russell, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Alexa Demie
Runtime: 135 mins
MPAA Rating: R

      In his third feature-length effort, Trey Edward Shults directs a passionate family drama that is a must-watch due to the excellence of the direction and performances. The visual presentation is dripping with bold stylistic choices with regards to the camera work, editing, and aspect ratio; Shults manipulates the mood of the story by precisely controlling all of these elements along with fitting musical selections to fill out the atmosphere. In parts, the presentation is frantic and dizzyingly fast-paced while, at other times, it is restrained and contemplative. Anger, frustration, guilt, compassion, joy, forgiveness, despair, and hope are all intricately tied together through this film’s structure and characters in a way that is uniquely engaging. No other film really emphasizes and contrasts the rippling long-term consequences of both wise and foolish emotional decision-making quite like Waves does. Due to the wide gamut of feelings and emotions, there is something for everyone to relate to in this movie, and I highly suggest you watch it.

RATING: ★★★★

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5. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Writers: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie
Runtime: 161 mins
MPAA Rating: R

      Tarantino is still at the top of his game in this alternative history of 1960s Hollywood. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as the emotionally-insecure and washed-up Western television actor Rick Dalton though Dalton’s stuntman, driver, and friend Cliff Booth played by Brad Pitt frequently steals the show. While Rick and Cliff are fictional characters, the rest of the characters are for the most part real actors and figures in Hollywood from the time period. However, as the title implies, the film is very much a fairy tale that integrates the fictional lead characters into history and adjusts real historical events to maximize the entertainment factor and give you pause to think. As always, Tarantino masterfully mixes drama and humor within a wildly entertaining script highlighted by the masterfully crafted dialogue for which he is known. The filmmaking is surprisingly restrained given that being over-the-top is Tarantino’s trademark…until the end. That being said, The final sequence of the movie is the hardest I laughed in a theater in 2019. Fans of Tarantino will love this movie and probably have already seen it. If you have been turned off by his style in the past, I suggest you give this one a chance.

RATING: ★★★★

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4. Parasite

Director: Bong Joon-ho
Writers: Bong Joon-ho
Starring: Kang-ho Song, Sun-kyun Lee, Yeo-jeong Jo
Runtime: 132 mins
MPAA Rating: R

      After a brief stint directing primarily English-language films Snowpiercer (2013) and Okja (2017), Bong Joon-ho return to write and direct another exclusively Korean-language feature where he has repeatedly shown his excellence with films such as Memories of Murder (2003), The Host (2005), and Mother (2009). Following a poor family as they attempt to dishonestly gain employment by a wealthy upper-class family. Bong Joon-ho blends drama and comedy to brilliant effect. The energetic screenplay is clever in how it sets up bizarre situations that are realistically intense yet innately humorous. Metaphors, foreshadowing, and reincorporation are all used to layer the presentation and make the film highly rewatchable. I am purposefully being vague because the experience is optimal if you go in knowing as little as possible. Thus, I suggest you go watch it and then read my full review. I am glad that Bong Joon-ho is finally getting widespread recognition as he has been putting out quality cinema over the past two decades.

RATING: ★★★★

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3. One Cut of the Dead

Director: Shin’ichirô Ueda
Writers: Shin’ichirô Ueda (screenplay), Ryoichi Wada (play)
Starring: Takayuki Hamatsu, Yuzuki Akiyama, Harumi Shuhama
Runtime: 96 mins
MPAA Rating: Not Rated (would probably be R)

      Due to the nature of the film, I am not going to say anything about it besides that I loved every second of it. Do not watch a trailer. Do not read a description. Just watch it.

RATING: ★★★★

2. Uncut Gems

Director: Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie
Writers: Ronald Bronstein, Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie
Starring: Adam Sandler, LaKeith Stanfield, Julia Fox
Runtime: 135 mins
MPAA Rating: R

      In their follow-up effort to the brilliant Good Time, my favorite film of 2017, directors Josh and Bennie Safdie deliver a great time once again. Adam Sandler (yes, that is the correct name) shines in his starring role as the greasy, gambling-addicted Jewish jewelry store owner Howard Ratner whose compulsive behavior and utter lack of scruples puts him into a highly precarious situation with the wrong people. Despite Ratner being a morally abject human being, there is a charm to the pathetic nature of the character that Sandler uniquely pulls off. It is fascinating to watch the stochastic chain of events that leads to any given point in the movie as every part of the story and production feels believable and in line with the chaotic nature of city life and business. This whole movie is a fine-tuned product of pure cinematic excellence that never misfires at any point all the way through its exceedingly satisfying conclusion. The Safdie Brothers prove once again they are at the top of their game and while this film would take home the top spot on my list in almost any other recent year, it ultimately finished a hair lower than my number one pick.

RATING: ★★★★½

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1. The Lighthouse

Director: Robert Eggers
Writers: Max Eggers, Robert Eggers
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson, Valeriia Karaman
Runtime: 109 mins
MPAA Rating: R

      Robert Eggers unfurls a monochrome masterpiece in his sophomore feature-length effort. Here is the plot: two men arrive by boat on a tiny island to take care of a lighthouse for a month-long shift. The irascible Melvillian Thomas Wake, who is the senior of the two caretakers or “wickies” as they are so called, is played to maddening extremes by the crazy-eyed Willem Dafoe who commands the screen with his cryptic sailor-tongued wisdom and thunderous outbursts. Playing off of him is Robert Pattinson’s Ephraim Winslow, the reserved new recruit wholly unfamiliar with the job; his consistent entanglement with bizarre dreams and tempestuous circumstances hint at secrets harbored beneath the surface of the situation. The dynamic between the two men as they drift in and out of moments of surreal isolated madness is both frightening and captivating. This film is an enthralling spiral into insanity unlike anything else I have ever seen, and I do not think will ever be eroded from my memory. Though the film is mysterious and beguiling throughout its runtime, it is interspersed with pockets of humor and honest humanity as well as the moments of phantasmagorical terror, often switching between disjoint moods seamlessly. The acting, writing, direction, cinematography, editing, production design, music, and sound design are flawless and cohesive in a manner that can only be experienced. It is rare to see a movie where every element is so sharply aligned towards constructing a singularly riveting and mesmerizing experience. The Lighthouse is not only the best film of 2019 but is among the best films of the past decade.

RATING: ★★★★½

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      Here are several more films that did not quite make the cut but I still think are great. All the movies here are definitely worth watching if they sound appealing to you (note that I have not written full reviews for several of these). The honorable mentions are listed in alphabetical order.

All Is Well

Directors: Eva Trobisch
Writers: Eva Trobisch
Starring: Aenne Schwarz, Andreas Döhler, Hans Löw
Runtime: 90 mins
MPAA Rating: Not Rated (would definitely be R)

      This is very somber picture of how sexual assault emotionally wrecks a woman’s life and how she tries to cope by pretending everything is okay. I appreciate that this movie from German writer-director Eva Trobisch realistically presents the havoc sexual assault and abortion can emotionally wreak on a potential mother. Not a whole lot of hope to be found in this one, but a powerful character presentation and depiction of genuine emotions.

RATING: ★★★½

The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open

Directors: Kathleen Hepburn, Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers
Writers: Kathleen Hepburn, Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers
Starring: Violet Nelson, Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Charlie Hannah
Runtime: 105 mins
MPAA Rating: Not Rated (would probably be PG-13 or R)

      In many ways a thematic analog to All is Well, this Canadien production from directors Kathleen Hepburn and Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers paints a stark, realistic picture of the pain caused by domestic abuse. Presented in a small number of simple yet prolonged single takes, the story follows a woman performing a random act of compassion for a young girl in distress. There is a surprising amount of depth given to these characters in a limited amount of time, and the screenplay efficiently communicates emotions and progresses the plot. Just like All is Well, the film is not an uplifting watch, but there is a fine quality to the simplicity and efficiency with which it delineates a serious and distressing topic.

RATING: ★★★½

The Farewell

Director: Lulu Wang
Writers: Lulu Wang
Starring: Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin
Runtime: 100 mins
MPAA Rating: PG

       One of the year’s most personal offerings as Lulu Wang essentially tells her own family’s story with some actors and name changes. The ethical dilemma at the film’s core is a fascinating one that highlights differences between Chinese and American cultural values. Should you tell a terminally ill family member they are going to bite the dust soon or let that family member live life out in peace? I highly recommend you check out The Farewell and check out my full review.

RATING: ★★★½

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A Hidden Life

Director: Terrence Malick
Writers: Terrence Malick
Starring: August Diehl, Valerie Pachner, Maria Simon
Runtime: 174 mins
MPAA Rating: PG-13

      This is visual storytelling at its finest from the high-minded Terrence Malick whose films oftentimes feel as though they might be more appropriate in an art gallery rather than a movie theater. The story is the disruption of a simple and quiet rural life in the Austrian countryside by the Nazi demands of World War II. The setting and characters are established and the plot progresses with minimal expositional dialogue usually in the form of read-aloud letters between a separated husband and wife. One-on-one conversations are meaningful, and the viewpoints and feelings expressed surrounding conscientious objection to a political cause are intriguing. Voiceover is actually used intelligently to elegantly articulate the philosophical, spiritual, and moral themes at the center of the story. Though the voiceovers frequently communicate characters’ feelings and states of mind, the emotion is equally demonstrated in the convincing performances. The rustic period production design looks authentic, and all the lighting and sounds feel natural. Skilled cinematographer Jorg Widmer captures scenic landscapes and olden European townships with equal distinction. Even the brief and mundane sequences such as those depicting the reaping of wheat or the dynamics of a water mill are oddly fascinating. The exclusive use of wide-angle lenses and the frequent use of quick-cut editing make this film aesthetically pronounced in my memory.

      This film is excellent in so many regards and is an overall entrancing experience. There is a spiritual peace that undergirds everything and keeps you at ease while watching. The only issue I have is that it did not deeply resonate with me to the point that I want to revisit it; outside of the visual style and music, it just has not clung to my memory to the degree that any of the films in my top ten have though I greatly appreciated it in the moment. The experience unfolds slowly, and the runtime is lengthy, clocking in at nearly three hours. However, I believe it is a worthy investment of your time if you are willing to engage your mind and senses.

RATING: ★★★★

I Lost My Body

Director: Jérémy Clapin
Writers: Jérémy Clapin (screenplay, adaptation, dialogue), Guillaume Laurant (screenplay, dialogue, novel)
Starring: Hakim Faris, Victoire Du Bois, Patrick d’Assumçao
Runtime: 81 mins
MPAA Rating: Not Rated (would probably be PG-13)

      The best animated feature I saw this year is a little off the beaten path as all the mainstream offerings from the likes of Disney, Pixar, and Dreamworks were a bit lackluster. The film is structured as a series of intercuts between the story of a young passionless boy who is attempting to find a purpose in life, and a disembodied hand attempting to find its way back to its body. The characters and story are nothing groundbreaking, but simple, artful storytelling and a whole lot of heart go a long way. Check this one out if subtitled animation does not turn you off.

RATING: ★★★½

In Fabric

Director: Peter Strickland
Writers: Peter Strickland
Starring: Sidse Babett Knudsen, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Julian Barratt
Runtime: 118 mins
MPAA Rating: R

      This bizarre and quite humorous little horror story about a haunted dress purchased from an occult-managed department store seems to be equal parts pastiche and parody of the Italian mystery-horror genre known as giallo (the most notable director within this genre would probably be Dario Argento). Due to the copious amount of humor and ridiculous “horrific” flourishes, I do not think any part of this movie is meant to be taken too seriously. Whether or not this is what director Peter Strickland intended, I enjoyed this film entirely for its comedic exaggeration of genre tropes as well as its satire of consumerism. Neat production design, memorable visuals, and solid performances make this film a pleasurable viewing experience. Not sure I can really recommend In Fabric to all that many people as it does get pretty weird, but, overall, I think the film is stitched together quite nicely.

RATING: ★★★½

John Wick 3: Parabellum

Director: Chad Stahelski
Writers: Derek Kolstad (screenplay, story, and based on characters created by), Shay Hatten (screenplay by), Chris Collins (screenplay by), Marc Abrams (screenplay by)
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Ian McShane
Runtime: 130 mins
MPAA Rating: R

      The third entry in the John Wick franchise is everything an action film needs to be and nothing more. The plot is sillier than the first two entries, but the stunt coordination, fight choreography, and the all-around Keanu Reeves badassery is at an all-time high. I enjoyed the writers extending the fictional concurrent reality of the stylized assassin underworld. If you like violent action flicks, do not miss this one. Check out of my full review if you want to know more.

RATING: ★★★½

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JoJo Rabbit

Director: Taika Waititi
Writers: Taika Waititi (screenplay), Christine Leunens (novel)
Starring: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson
Runtime: 108 mins
MPAA Rating: PG-13

      The most whimsical take I have seen on the Third Reich. A little surprised by the Best Picture nomination with how split critics were on this movie, but there is a lot to like here. Over-the-top mockery of the Nazi rigmarole and a jingoistic boy coming to terms with Jews not being ferocious monsters. Despite of the context, you will probably smile and laugh through most of the runtime due in no small part to Taika Waititi’s performance as ridiculous imaginary Hitler. Check out of my full review if you want to read a more in-depth critique.

RATING: ★★★½

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Knives Out

Director: Rian Johnson
Writers: Rian Johnson
Starring: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas
Runtime: 131 mins
MPAA Rating: PG-13

      Rian Johnson redeems himself with, out of all genres, a murder-mystery. Taking detours from the conventional whodunit structure, Johnson’s script is both clever and amusing. The distinctive production design based around the aesthetics of an old-fashioned mansion adorned with an OCD crime novelist’s memorabilia is highlighted by intelligent shot composition which make the majority of the film visually appealing. The film features superb performances from several veteran actors such as Daniel Craig and Michael Shannon who are able to let loose a bit since the tone is not overwhelmingly serious; however, it is the lesser known Ana de Armas who does most of the heavy-lifting. The film drags the plot out a bit too far past the two-hour mark for my taste, but I was engaged with the story the entire time. Check out my full review and definitely see Knives Out if it sounds like it is up your alley.

RATING: ★★★½

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Long Day’s Journey Into Night

Director: Gan Bi
Writers: Gan Bi
Starring: Wei Tang, Jue Huang, Sylvia Chang
Runtime: 133 mins
MPAA Rating: Not Rated (would probably be PG-13)

      This movie is an artistic Chinese film that you probably have not heard about unless you keeps tab on foreign cinema. The first half of this movie is a series of slow but beautifully shot scenes that are heavy on the exposition. However, the last 59 minutes of this movie is a stunning single take dream-like sequence that I think I can only describe as magical. Before the sequence concludes, the camera travels from out of some caverns to a mountainous overlook, descends via zipline to a village below, meanders about some festivities, and takes a ride on a drone all the while tracking the main character’s seemingly random conversations and encounters that from time to time subtly call back to the real-life elements from the film’s first half. It is the closest experience to a dream that I think a film has ever depicted. It is just one of those scenes that I am sad I will never experience again for the first time. Unfortunately, the first half of this movie is incredibly boring, and, overall, here is not a whole lot of substance beyond vagueries relating to the connection between life, memories, and dreams. Watch it if it sounds intriguing but this film is definitely not for everyone.

RATING: ★★★½

Marriage Story

Director: Noah Baumbach
Writers: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Julia Greer
Runtime: 137 mins
MPAA Rating: R

      Marriage Story is a valiant attempt to dethrone Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) as the best divorce movie. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson finally get a vehicle to showcase the full extent of their acting capabilities thanks to non-mainstream director Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha, The Squid and the Whale). Two participants in a mutual divorce plan to transition out of their relationship amicably and sans legal fees. It turns out that strong feelings and differing visions of the future can make such a transition quite messy, especially if a kid is involved. The main characters are self-absorbed people and demonstrably terrible parents, but they are interesting characters. Everything about the couple and their relationship feels natural and the situations that arise are believable. The highlight of the film occurs when a private conversation between the couple devolves into a heated disagreement. The scene builds intensity by following the characters moving about the entire space of an apartment and then switching to closer shots of the characters’ faces as their argument comes to a climax. Unfortunately, the screenplay does not maintain that level of excellence throughout the entire runtime. The screenplay frequently annoyed me due to repeated use of tone-deaf idiosyncracies that prevent the experience from really mimicking real life. So much of this movie feels entirely convincing but there are just some eyebrow-raising moments of levity. Every time they occurred, I felt extremely confused about how seriously I was supposed to be taking the presentation as the crux of the film is highly realistic and dramatic. Definitely worth checking out for the exquisite performances and convincing drama.

RATING: ★★★½


Director: Ari Aster
Writers: Ari Aster
Starring: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper
Runtime: 140 mins
MPAA Rating: R

      After creeping audiences out in the dark with Hereditary (2018), Ari Aster decided to creep people out in broad daylight. In this Swedish cult suspense/horror film, Ari Aster focuses on developing the characters and sculpting the setting and atmosphere; he slowly builds a sense of unease before smacking you in the face with a hammer. It features gorgeous visuals and intriguing concepts but falls short in several key areas which you can read about in detail in my full review.

RATING: ★★★½

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The Peanut Butter Falcon

Director: Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz
Writers: Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Zack Gottsagen, Dakota Johnson
Runtime: 97 mins
MPAA Rating: PG-13

      Heartwarming story of the friendship between a bayou drifter played by Shia LaBeouf and a wannabe-wrestler with Down Syndrome played by Zack Gottsagen that transcended the realm of make-believe. Shia LeBeouf seems to deeply cherish his real-life relationship with Zack who according to Shia himself is a strong positive force in his life. That sincerity translates to great effect as this central relationship is highlighted by a natural sense of camaraderie and humor and is undergirded with a palpable warmth. The visual presentation has enough energy and style to keep the story entertaining throughout the entire runtime even throwing in a few bits of Coen Brothers-esque oddball humor and flourishes of surrealism. Dakota Johnson chips in a solid supporting performance, and Bruce Dern is still alive. Overall, just a pleasant experience that I highly recommend.

RATING: ★★★½

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Director: Céline Sciamma
Writers: Céline Sciamma (screenplay)
Starring: Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel, Luàna Bajrami
Runtime: 121 mins
MPAA Rating: R

      This film is not the typical genteel 18th century romance that you might expect. When female painter Marianne (Noémie Merlant) is commissioned to paint a countess’s daughter named Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) who is betrothed to an Italian nobleman, the artist finds herself falling for the subject. Just as the title implies, French writer-director Céline Sciamma paints a portrait, just a brief instance of time, of two women slowly realizing their bond and manifesting their affection in spellbinding fashion. Besides one aimless subplot, this simple story of an ephemeral romance is surprisingly gripping. You understand why these women find solace in one another despite the diverging courses of their lives. In many respects, this film is quite minimalist yet highly artistic and refined; the beauty is in its simplicity and honesty. An extended static shot of a character’s facial expression brilliantly concludes the movie as “Summer” from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons is played over top. Not much else I can say besides that this film is fine art.

RATING: ★★★½


Director: Yimou Zhang
Writers: Wei Li (screenplay), Yimou Zhang (screenplay)
Starring: Chao Deng, Li Sun, Ryan Zheng
Runtime: 116 mins
MPAA Rating: Not Rated (would probably be PG-13)

      Another accomplishment from Chinese master director Yimou Zhang (Hero, House of Flying Daggers). With an intentionally washed-out color palette, the film’s landscapes and period olden Chinese structures are somberly picturesque, and the intricate artistic flourishes stand out. The background of every scene both indoors and outdoors is gorgeous in every facet. The period story about two feuding kingdoms and an elaborate scheme concocted to settle the dispute once and for all is entertainingly drawn out and has strong Shakesperean vibes. The third act features a ludicrous action sequence involving a myriad of arrows and…uhh..umbrellas; it is unlike anything I have ever seen before. For fans of Zhang’s previous films or those who enjoy artistic Chinese action and drama, you should really enjoy Shadow.

RATING: ★★★½

The Two Popes

Director: Fernando Meirelles
Writers: Anthony McCarten
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Jonathan Pryce, Juan Minujín
Runtime: 125 mins
MPAA Rating: PG-13

      The Vatican is an unlikely yet magnificent backdrop for a drama of religious and intellectual significance though it sometimes veers towards buddy comedy. Before the unprecedented papal handoff between Benedict and Francis in 2012, The two men ultimately share the same faith and agree on what the problems are yet markedly differ in their approach to solutions. Their conversations seek to reconcile their differences all the while we gain a deeper look into Benedict’s past and the motivation for his outlook on life and personal beliefs via flashback. Director Fernando Meirelles uses just about every type of shot in the book to film the conversation between the two religious leaders. While I was not a huge fan of the jittery handheld shots, the majority of the camerawork is phenomenal. In particular, the overhead shots of the two men walking around a garden at the Pope’s vacation estate and the slow zoom out in sync with increasing ambient illumination to reveal the Sistine chapel (an intricately crafted set designed to replicate the real church) stood out. The visual effects and, in particular, the compositing used in this film are done subtly so as to disguise the fact that they (or anyone else for that matter) could not do any filming within the Vatican itself. Though I wish the film had restrained itself a bit more with regards to comedy and playing up the almost certainly fictionalized buddy-buddy camaraderie of the two men, I enjoyed the insightful script and masterful performances from two veteran acting elites.

RATING: ★★★½

Under the Silver Lake

Director: David Robert Mitchell
Writers: David Robert Mitchell
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Riley Keough, Topher Grace
Runtime: 139 mins
MPAA Rating: R

      A bizarre, pulpy mystery from the director of It Follows. Andrew Garfield wanders around trying to find out all sorts of crazy stuff. Numerous strange motifs recur with no clear explanation. Vividly colored and overflowing with visual references, the visuals left an impression on me, and I still find myself pondering certain scenes. It presents some pretty out-there ideas and imagery. Ultimately, I am not sure this film is abundantly rich in meaning or even all that satisfying, but the experience is still fascinating.

RATING: ★★★½


      After much deliberation, I decided that this year’s winner…would have to be a tie. There were two movies that I saw this year that were so uniquely terrible that I had to make space for both of them.

Gemini Man

Director: Ang Lee
Writers: David Benioff (screenplay and story), Billy Ray (screenplay), Darren Lemke (screenplay and story)
Starring: Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen
Runtime: 117 mins
MPAA Rating: PG-13

Gemini Man would be a straight-to-DVD action movie if it were not for three things:

  1. Ang Lee: Seeing the name of the renowned director of films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Brokeback Mountain (2005), and Life of Pi (2012) attached to an action movie this stupid befuddled me.
  2. Will Smith: The charismatic and likable leading man was the main selling point of this movie’s marketing. The gimmicky plot hook is that he has to fight a younger version of himself.
  3. Technology: Ang Lee has in recent years been known for pushing the bounds of cinematic technology. This film was digitally shot in 4K at 120 fps (i.e. high frame rate or HFR) modified for 3D. To my knowledge no theater in the US can currently play media with those specifications. Additionally, the young Fresh Prince-era Will Smith is not a digitally de-aged version of the actor. Rather, it is an entirely digitally created model atop of Will Smith’s motion capture. It is shockingly lifelike in all levels of lighting.

      Remove these three elements and you have nothing remotely worth showing in a theater. The story is dumb B-grade action movie schlock, and the script is humorously stilted and clichéd. However, Will Smith acting against a fake Will Smith never fails to amuse; I do not think I stopped laughing or smiling at any point at the stupidity of the dialogue and the disorienting HFR action sequences. Outside of the final sequence of Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the hardest I laughed in a theater in 2019 was during this film’s’ climax.

WARNING: Spoiler!

      In the end, Will Smith and young Will Smith team up to take down the big bad guy’s helmeted supersoldier, and it is revealed that this soldier is yet another Will Smith. Hilariously awful…every second of it.

End Spoiler

      PS: I just noticed that the infamous Game of Thrones writer David Benioff has a screenplay and story credit.


The Fanatic

Director: Fred Durst
Writers: Fred Durst (story and screenplay by), Derek Bekerman (screenplay by)
Starring: John Travolta, Devon Sawa, Ana Golja
Runtime: 88 mins
MPAA Rating: R

There are exactly three things you need to know about this movie:

  1. John Travolta plays a mentally handicapped stalker.
  2. This movie is directed by Fred Durst, lead singer of the briefly famous rap-rock band Limp Bizkit
  3. The first line of dialogue is “Can’t talk right now. I gotta poo.”


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