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Michael Lee’s Top 10 Favorite Movies Of 2019
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top 10 2019

It’s that time of the year again where writers from various film blogs start to post their top ten favorite films of the year. Given that we see over 100 films a year, it is hard to narrow it down to a top ten list. Of course, not all lists are the same, and all of them are subjective. One list doesn’t necessarily define an entire year. Still, you are likely to find a similarity of choices of films on these lists. Looking back at the year, there have been plenty of movies that could have made the list from the blockbuster favorites like Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Infinity War to indies like Lulu Wang‘s The Farewell, and even some really great foreign films like Bong Joon-ho‘s Parasite and originals like Rian Johnson‘s Knives Out. Below I run down my top ten favorite movies of 2019.

Toy Story 4

10 – Toy Story 4

Pixar’s flagship animated franchise has consistently brought heartwarming and humorous tones with timely stories to every one of its installments and made for TV specials. But for Toy Story 4, the studio has brought in something fresh and new that not only changes the way we see these beloved characters but how they see themselves. Here, Woody (Tom Hanks) goes through an existential crisis and questions everything he’s ever known about being a toy who is loyal to one child.

Not only does Woody have to deal with his internal struggles, but he also brings it upon himself to teach Forky (Tony Hale), a googly-eyed spork with pipe cleaners for hands and a broken popsicle stick for feet, the importance of being Bonnie’s favorite toy. And Woody’s norms and understandings of being a lost toy are changed when he’s reunited with Bo Peep (Annie Potts), who introduces him to a world that is full of kids who are just waiting to play with toys.

Ford vs Ferrari Christian Bale Matt Damon

9 – Ford V Ferrari

Though a bit formulaic, Ford v Ferrari‘s charm completely hinges on the performances of both Matt Damon and Christian Bale, as well as the technical work that ranges from the sound design and sound editing to costume and production design, and cinematography. It is the kind of underdog story that anyone can appreciate if they are willing to overlook some of the semantics. The film spends an ample amount of time on the relationships that are forged off the racecourse, and not nearly enough time on how the actual cars are built. But at the same time, there is a great deal of respect in the way they talk about cars and racing.

Sure, the entire history of the bitter rivalry between the two automakers is encapsulated as a pissing contest, but the heart of it all is that relationship between Shelby and Miles’ love of cars, and how they could care less about all the corporate bullshit that gets in the way of the sport of racing. It’s in those moments where all the technical work shines, the editing, production design, and sound work draws you in as if you were in the driver’s seat or are a part of the pit crew.

1917

8 – 1917

Sam Mendes1917 one-shot film technical achievement that offers a first-hand look at the horrors of trench warfare in the most immersive kind of way. In the movie, two British soldiers go on a suicide mission that could save the lives of thousands of their fellow soldiers from a surprise enemy ambush. And the filming technique is in no way a gimmick.

It is a dangerous odyssey that is emotionally draining yet very captivating right from the get-go. The practical and technical work draws you into this world in such a way that makes you feel as if you are a part of the film. You feel all the physical pain and suffering, as well as the emotional grief and brief tranquilities and ease that the characters experience. If anything, 1917 is the kind of film that needs to be seen in a theater because anything else would be settling for less, which would be a massive disservice for Mendes’ latest piece of work.

Booksmart trailer header

7 – Booksmart

A wicked smart coming of age comedy that proves women can be funny both behind and in front of the camera. Olivia Wilde‘s directorial debut brings in a sincere and honest look at the modern-day female, relationships, sexuality, and expectations of living up to our potentials while dealing with the pressures of societal norms. Beanie Feldstein and Katlyin Devers deliver astounding performances that are both refreshing and smart as the two are an honest reflection of the high school world that we live in now.

Booksmart‘s nuance prevents it from falling into the trap of being a typical teenage high school comedy. By addressing all of the social norms and trends of today, it is something that most audiences can relate to and have a better understanding of. For teenagers, they can see themselves in these characters, and for adults, they can see how teenagers cope with the daily struggles and pressures of today.

Knives Out

6 – Knives Out

Knives Out is rare murder mystery that draws inspiration from the great Agatha Christie whodunnits that stays relevant by weaving in topical subjects and political subtext. Full of unexpected twists and turns, director Rian Johnson crafts a delightfully excellent film that will keep audiences guessing and have them talking about the film in more ways that one. As a result, audiences are fully engaged with what they are watching as they try to figure out how to untangle this web while also figuring out where the donut hole begins and where it ends.

All of that is backed by terrific leading performances from Ana De Armas and Daniel Craig, and supported by a stellar ensemble made up of Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, and more. If anything, the themes of class warfare are expressed through not just the characters, but it’s production design as we get a glimpse of the world of the haves and the have nots. Wonderful until the very end, Knives Out is this generation’s murder mystery.

The Farewell trailer header

5 – The Farewell

It’s not too often that a person can connect with something on the screen in such a way that they feel that they see their life story being told. That’s how I felt with Lulu Wang‘s The Farewell, a bittersweet yet funny film that doesn’t shy away from dense subject matter while also celebrating the joys of life. Wang’s film allows audiences to connect to these characters through its universal story while seeing it told through a cultural lens.

Coming to terms with the inevitability and harsh truth is a profound struggle for any family to go through. And that is especially true to any family member who feels like an outsider when they are at their ancestral home. Still, the one thing you can count to bring a family together is a copious amount of delicious food and an obscene amount of booze. That sense of togetherness at the dinner table eases the pains and overcomes grief. And that is true for any culture and generation.

Marriage Story

4 – Marriage Story

Perhaps the greatest irony of divorce is the fact that you have to come together to a mutual agreement of how it will all end. Noah Baumbach‘s Marriage Story offers a look at a martial union unraveling at the seams with compassion and honesty, and it doesn’t mind getting its hands dirty in the process. Through it all, we get to see how Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver) find their happiness as they go through one of the most painful moments of their lives.

Marriage Story isn’t the easiest thing to sit through, but it goes about it in such an authentic way and adds humor to numb the pain. Shot selections tell us that these two will never be standing together side by side, but on opposite ends or separated, whether that it is figuratively or literally. Add to that Randy Newman‘s warm music, which gives us a chance to get to know these characters a lot better and react to their life-changing decisions. It’s graceful and alluring, yet so painful to watch this unconventional story of a break-up.

Avengers: Endgame

3 – Avengers: Endgame

It’s incredible what Kevin Feige and the rest of Marvel Studios have accomplished since they launched in 2008, and Avengers: Endgame is the epic conclusion to a 23-film story arc that spans 11 years. In this three-hour-plus romp, our heroes must travel through time to reverse their failed attempt to stop Thanos (Josh Brolin) from wiping out half of all life. They never experienced a loss of this size, and as such, are encouraged to live up to their heroic ensemble namesake.

But unlike some other epic film finales, Avengers: Endgame earns every single moment given without having to resort to lazy fan service. Yes, there is fan service in the film. But the scenes like “I love you 3000,” Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) final moments with his mother, “On your left,” Captain America (Chris Evans) wielding Mjolnir, Tony’s (Robert Downey Jr.) sacrifice, and Cap following Tony’s advice to get some of that life – i.e., Cap and Peggy’s (Haley Atwell) last dance. One thing is for sure, it will be hard for any other film to live up to or even exceed the high standards set by Avengers: Endgame.

Parasite Movie

2 – Parasite

Bong Joon-Ho‘s Parasite is a relevant dark comedic and thrilling social satire that reveals the harsh truths about living in an age of capitalism. It’s devastatingly smart in the way that it delivers how social inequalities function now and will serve as a vital lesson about class warfare to future generations. And all of that coalesces perfectly through Bong’s camera movement and framework as well as the fantastic performances.

What Bong says about getting “passed the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films” is correct. There is beauty in the up and downstairs dichotomic themes that divide the rich and poor families that the Korean filmmaker presents in the film. And there is plenty of imagery of upper and lower classes as audiences see the more impoverished Kim family devise a meticulous con to sneak themselves to work for the rich but very snobby Park family. In the end, it is an artful foreign film that everyone can enjoy.

Jojo Rabbit

1 – Jojo Rabbit

There are very few films that can strike a balance between the wild comedy and messages of love and tolerance against the bleak backdrop of World War II, but Taika Waititi‘s Jojo Rabbit finds a way to do that, and with reverence. Then again, Waititi has a gift for juggling several themes and complex tones without once dropping the ball. The film is serious when it needs to be, but then has moments of levity when it gets too heavy. But none of the wacky and zany comedic beats get in the way of the film’s message that the world would be in a much better place if we were more empathetic.

While Jojo Rabbit has a great comedic cast, the film really belongs to Roman Griffin Davis, who plays the titular character. Everything that he’s learned from the Hitler Youth and his imaginary Hitler (also Waititi) changes when he discovers that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a young Jewish girl (Thomasin Mckenzie) in the attic of their home. But it is in that one discovery and the close relationship that he has with his mother that he learns lessons of tolerance and love. So even though things may seem hopeless and that the past is repeating itself, we are reminded that things like hope, love, and tolerance are the strongest forces in the world. And to be able to deliver that powerful of a message, while also making me laugh and cry, is the kind of film that needs to be shared with everyone.

You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

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