Friday, January 3, 2020

My Favourite Films of 2019 - UPDATED AGAIN

Scene from Parasite
Sometimes making a list of one's favourite films for the previous year shortly after New Year's Eve can be a fool's game.  Sometimes movies need a bit of time to fester in my mind before their true greatness is realized.  Sometimes it takes the intense love expressed by others for me to truly open my eyes and get past my own initial hangups about a movie.  That happened to me this year with the masterpiece Parasite.

When I first saw it in November 2019, I was initially a bit disappointed with it.  I hadn't enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed Boon Jong Ho's previous films including Okja or Snowpiercer.  It was that disappointment accompanied by a distrust of group consensus that prevented me from appreciating Parasite that much for several more weeks.

Yes, the Oscars refocused my mind, I must admit.  They so rarely do, but this year was an exception when the most inspiring, original and fearless flick took the top prize, not only for Best International Film, but also Best Picture.  Had I missed something?  Yes, apparently.  I re-watched Parasite a week later with a friend, accompanied with some booze.  And to my joy, the second viewing was as delightful a second viewing one could hope for.  I found myself loving all the fine details of the piece, laughing as it unfolded, then switched gears and genres half-way, and approached its astonishing and thought-provoking conclusion.  I was hooked.  A third viewing the next week with another friend made me realize I had made a mistake with my Top Ten Favourites list of 2019.    

I've finally gotten around to updating this post to accurately reflect, for posterity, what I truly think about the films of 2019.  Parasite is very much my favourite film of the year.  Yes, 1917 was astonishing, but also just a very good war flick, the sort of which we've seen many times before.  I still am very glad I put Ad Astra very close to the top of my list.  I do love it more than 1917, after all.  It will remain my guilty sci-fi pleasure of 2019 as well.  

I have always amended my Top Ten list in years past.  This year was no different, although I will admit that I've never changed my list this much, this long after the year's end.  Is it cheating as a film lover to only truly appreciate a film after the Oscars anoint it the best?  Maybe.  My changing mind about Parasite has been instructive to me: I should try to keep a more open mind when watching the films I do and try better to put aside all prejudices and simply let them wash over me.  Perhaps I would've loved Parasite much sooner.

Without further ado, here are my top picks of 2019:

1. Parasite: Superb and unforgettable social commentary and satire, so relevant to our times that it stings the senses while still feeling enjoyable and entertaining, this film portrays a working class family that gradually takes over the various "help" jobs in a rich Korean family home.  The plot twists are amazing.  The artistry is so impeccable, I'm slightly ashamed I didn't appreciate this masterpiece earlier than I did.  Yes, it took the Oscars to make me realize how I had erred not putting this flick higher on my own list.  After four viewings (with more planned), this is no doubt my favourite of 2019.  

2. Ad Astra: I'm a sucker for artsy, philosophical sci-fi flicks.  With gorgeous cinematography, uber cool art direction, plus haunting, soothing, symphonic music, stellar visual effects (which here easily best those of the recent First Man), and a lovely performance by its beautiful, likeable, but complicated lead (in this case, Brad Pitt), this film takes its place among the best in the genre, in my opinion.  This is magnificent work by writer-director James Gray, whose last film, The Lost City of Z, I loved and recommend as well.

3. 1917: I'm also a sucker for great, historical war films, especially those with tremendous heart.  Throw in some handsome young leads, including George MacKay, and breathtaking cinematography, and it's cinematic ecstasy for me.  Roger Deakins' work in this film as DOP is a must-see.  The continuous, long shots are awesome to behold.  The acting is stupendous.  The direction by Sam Mendes among his best accomplishments.  I liked this one better than Dunkirk, which says a lot.

4. Us: Better than Get Out in many ways, this stunningly original, chilling story, also by writer-director Jordan Peele, about a family stalked by mysterious strangers who look exactly like them is not one I'll ever forget, including its sensational, jaw-dropping ending.  Lupita Nyong'o plays both mothers to perfection.

5. Once Upon a Hollywood: I must admit I love most of Quentin Tarantino's films.  I don't usually mind the extreme violence he indulges in as long as it's brief and serves a purpose, typically comedic.  Who could really object to seeing Hitler blown to bits in Inglourious Basterds, after all?  This is a sweet masterpiece, in typical Tarantino style, but also very heartfelt.  I think this one is on its way to wins for Best Picture and Best Director at the Oscars next month.

6. Portrait of a Lady on Fire: The queer film of 2019, without a doubt.  I caught this film at TIFF and was thankful I chose it.  The story follows the slow-burning romance between an 18th century young French female painter and her muse, a young woman whose wedding portrait she is commissioned to create.  Beautifully directed by Celina Sciamma, watching this story unfurl was a delight, especially the final scene at the orchestra with Antonio Vivaldi's Concerto No 2 in G minor.  Wow.


7. Jojo Rabbit: Great historical satire about the banalities of hate.  Unforgettable.

8. Captain Marvel: Brie Larson kicks ass in this super hero origin flick that is totally original and extremely funny.  The special effects used to make Samuel L. Jackson look like a 30-something are far better than anything seen in The Irishman.

9. Harriet: Stunning and urgent historical drama about Harriet Tubman, one of America's greatest heroes of the Underground Railroad.  Cynthia Erivo is sensational in the lead role.  Definitely a masterpiece.

10. Marvel's Avengers: Endgame: A perfect finale to this saga. I've hesitated to elevate super hero films to my top ten list in the past.  But screw it: I'm a nerd who loves these flicks.

11. Spider-Man: Far From Home: The most entertaining Spider-Man flick I've seen. Plus Tom Holland and Jake Gyllenhaal make the perfect onscreen duo, even though all the homo-eroticism was definitely in my head.

12. The Best of Enemies: An expertly acted and crafted story that proves even the worst racists among us are capable of changing and the best way to bring somebody over from the dark side is not to insult and castigate them, but reach out to them with compassion.  Even if compassion is the last thing you think they deserve.

13. Pain & Glory: A lovely and inspiring addition to Pedro Almodovar's repetoire, with a superb performance by Antonio Banderas.

Little Women
The Two Popes
Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker
The Report
A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood
Lucy in the Sky Marriage Story
The Irishman
Knives Out
Terminally In Love (a short film I saw at the Inside Out film festival in Toronto, mesmerizing, trippy, funny, unforgettable)
War Movie (another short film I saw at Inside Out)
Thrive (another short film I saw at Inside Out.)
The Blonde One
Just Mercy
My Zoe
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

Apollo 11
Queen & Slim 
The Lighthouse
The Aeronauts
The Laundromat
The Farewell

On the Basis of Sex
The Obituary of Tunde Johnson
X-Men: Dark Phoenix

1 comment:

Lorne said...

I haven't seen that many films this year, but my top three, two of which you mention, are Marriage Story, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and Dolemite is My Name. A disparate trio, perhaps, but immensely satisfying.

The Irishman is on my list to view.