(*homocinematically inclined)

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Movie Dearest's Top 10 of 2019

Sony/Ringer illustration


Movie Dearest creator Kirby Holt names his favorite films of 2019.

As I look over this list of films I have selected as my own personal canon for the last year of the second decade of the 21st century I realize that, despite their varied outward appearances and disparate genres, they all share a unifying theme: love. Naturally there's the tales of romantic love, both found and/or lost, and familial love, such as parental or between siblings. But there's also examples of different kinds of love, such as one's love of country (as in the midst of war) or one's passion for their art (acting, singing, writing) or career (senate investigator, sex therapist, superhero). There is the love one discovers when making a new friend (even if they are a bit different) or the love of just cruising around the Hollywood hills with an old one.

So yes, it is safe to say that I love these movies. Let me count the ways...

1. Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood
Quentin Tarantino's spunky satire of/audacious homage to show biz circa 1969 is a gloriously gonzo saga that only he could make, let alone get away with. A fairy tale-perfect cast of characters, led by our dauntless hero Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), his loyal cohort Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) and the fair maiden-next-door Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), inhabits this fully-realized Southern California dreamland where, like the title suggests, a vicarious happily ever after is waiting... that is, if you don't mind getting your hands a little dirty.

Sony Pictures/Ringer illustration
2. Little Women
Much more than a classic reimagined for the new millennium, Greta Gerwig's bold adaptation of the perennial literary (and film adaptation) favorite casts a welcome, enchanting spell, making you forget that you've seen this story told so many times before. This time out, all the March girls get to shine, allowing for vivid characterizations of not just Jo (Saoirse Ronan) but also Meg (Emma Watson), Beth (Eliza Scanlen) and especially Amy (Florence Pugh), now no longer your least favorite sister. This may be the 'tearjerker' of the year, but it earns every drop.

3. 1917
What Sam Mendes created with this World War I thrill ride is a sublimely crafted epic of intimate proportion, a story of soldiers catapulted through the insanity of warfare fueled by duty, not just to their station but to their own moral souls. By way of the refined talents of cinematographer Roger Deakins and editor Lee Smith, the film is constructed as one continuous shot, embedding it with a visceral energy that propels the viewer, right alongside the protagonists, deep into the trenches, through 'no man's land', and beyond.

4. Marriage Story
Noah Baumbach's film à clef is a smart, finely modulated look into a sinking marriage and the subsequent struggle to stay afloat when one's whole world has been washed away. As the soon-to-be-divorced couple, Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are both at the top of their game, delivering raw, unsympathetic performances in a story that doesn't ask you to take sides. Bonus: ever the firecracker, Laura Dern adds another variant of her patented ballbuster to her résumé as a no-nonsense divorce lawyer.

Fox/Ringer illustration
5. Jojo Rabbit
Set in Nazi Germany during the waning days of World War II, Taika Waititi cements his status as the satirist of our age with this deliriously dark comedy about a boy and his führer (played by Waititi himself, of course). Seen through the eyes of our young hero, a fanatically devoted member of the Hitlerjugend named Johannes "Jojo" Betzler (12-year-old Roman Griffin Davis, in his film debut no less), this twisted take on the "horrors of war" trope is at turns hilarious, harrowing and heartwarming, the latter amply supplied by a luminous Scarlett Johansson as Jojo's loving Mutter.

Illustration by Eliud Rivera
6. Pain and Glory
The films of Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar have always been at least partially autobiographical, and his latest (titled Dolor y gloria in his native land), is no exception by any means. Antonio Banderas is simply brilliant as Almodóvar avatar Salvador Mallo, a melancholic film director battling chronic pain and haunted by memories of past disappointments who finds solace in unexpected reunions and inspiration in the most serendipitous of discoveries. Almodóvar's other muse, Penélope Cruz, co-stars, via flashback, as Salvador's loving madre.

7. The Peanut Butter Falcon
A headstrong fisherman on the run, a tenacious social worker and a runaway young man with Down syndrome form the found family unit at the core of this quirky sleeper hit, 2019's highest grossing independent film. First time feature writer/directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz and their cast — Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson and newcomer Zachary Gottsagen — weave an inspiring tale about chasing your dreams... especially if that dream is to become a professional wrestler known as "The Peanut Butter Falcon".

8. Abominable
In a year dominated by sequels and a Lion King-sized remake, the most enjoyable animated film was the one that was the most original. Teeming with imagination, this delight-filled DreamWorks Animation adventure featured stunningly beautiful visuals of the landscapes of China, lovely music via violin and a magical, adorably abominable snowman named Everest as its leading man. Eschewing crude humor and unabashedly embracing its warm and fuzzy side, Abominable effortlessly instills within you a sense of joy and pure wonder.

Marvel Studios/Ringer illustration
9. Spider-Man: Far From Home
The Avengers may have assembled and the Joker may have... danced down a staircase, but the best comic book movie of the year was this globetrotting escapade, the latest web-slinging romp of your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, once again brought charmingly to life by Tom Holland. In this outing, he faces off against a 'dimension-hopping hero' named Mysterio, brought roguishly to life by Jake Gyllenhaal. Imbued with a sense of fun that most superhero sagas sorely need and sadly lack, Far from Home was by far the wildest trip to the movies I had last year.

Illustration by Dhawal Bhanushali
10. The Report
This taut throwback to such low-key government conspiracy thrillers as All the President's Men features Adam Driver in his other great performance this year. Here he enacts US Senate investigator Daniel Jones, charged by Senator Dianne Feinstein (a brisk turn by the always outstanding Annette Bening) in exposing the CIA's use of torture on political prisoners post-September 11. In a perfect world (and less truncated season), this tense drama would be more in the awards conversation, but don't let its underdog status keep you from reviewing The Report.

Honorable Mentions – The Next 10:
Why stop at just 10? In alphabetical order...

20th Century Fox/Ringer illustration
Alita: Battle Angel
Robert Rodriguez's best work in years centers on a patchwork half-human/half-robot heroine (Rosa Salazar, enhanced with dazzling digital effects) fighting for survival in a cyberpunk post-apocalypse world. Sci-fi action at its best.

Ask Dr. Ruth
You may know Ruth Westheimer as the plucky sex therapist who was ubiquitous during the 80s. But did you know she is a Holocaust survivor or that she fought in the Palestine War? This fascinating bio-doc has all the answers.

Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché
Even hardcore cinephiles may not know of the pioneering French director Alice Guy-Blaché, the first woman to direct a film, but this remarkably researched and exquisitely crafted documentary will absolutely change that.

End of the Century
Not just this year's "sexy foreign dudes in love" movie, Fin de siglo from Argentina is enriched by its themes of attraction, loss and "the path not taken". And it has sexy foreign dudes in love.

Illustration by Jennifer Dionisio
Although this biopic is not without its faults (just skip all the flashbacks to Judy's younger days), Renée Zellweger's breathtaking transformation into the iconic star is not just the comeback of the year, its the performance of a lifetime.

One Child Nation
Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang's chilling exposé of the horrors wreaked by China's one-child policy is not an easy watch at times, yet it is a captivating anthropological look at the consequences of blind nationalism.

Illustration by Anh Nguyen
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
France may not have selected Céline Sciamma's Portrait de la jeune fille en feu to represent it at the next Oscars, but that doesn't mean you should pass over this achingly romantic period romance between an artist and her subject too.

Illustration by Zohar Lazar
Taron Egerton is spangled and spectacular in this deliriously over-the-top musical fantasia depicting the transformation of Reginald Dwight into Elton John... and he sings the songs too. Rami who?

Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street
Freddy's Revenge is now notorious/celebrated as a cult gay fave for all its none-too-subtle homoerotic overtones, but whatever happened to horror's first 'final boy'? Jesse himself, Mark Patton, reveals all in this entertaining doc.

Tell Me Who I Am
A stark look at twin brothers and the emotional extent that one took to protect the other from their unspeakable past, this unflinching documentary is hauntingly engrossing, shockingly intimate, yet ultimately cathartic.

More Honorable MentionsWhat the heck, here's another 10 to enjoy: The Biggest Little Farm, Downton Abbey, Ford v Ferrari, Frozen II, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, Hustlers, Knives Out, Midsommar, Toy Story 4 and Wild Rose.

By Kirby Holt, Movie Dearest creator, editor and head writer.

1 comment:

  1. MD Ratings:
    Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood - 9/10
    Little Women - 9/10
    1917 - 9/10
    Marriage Story - 9/10
    Jojo Rabbit - 8/10
    Pain and Glory - 8/10
    The Peanut Butter Falcon - 8/10
    Abominable - 8/10
    Spider-Man: Far from Home - 8/10
    The Report - 8/10

    Alita: Battle Angel - 8/10
    Ask Dr. Ruth - 8/10
    Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché - 8/10
    End of the Century - 8/10
    Judy - 7/10
    One Child Nation - 8/10
    Portrait of a Lady on Fire - 8/10
    Rocketman - 7/10
    Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street - 8/10
    Tell Me Who I Am - 8/10

    The Biggest Little Farm - 8/10
    Downton Abbey - 7/10
    Ford v Ferrari - 7/10
    Frozen II - 8/10
    How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World - 8/10
    Hustlers - 7/10
    Knives Out - 7/10
    Midsommar - 8/10
    Toy Story 4 - 8/10
    Wild Rose - 7/10