The majority of films are on the list below are compelled to put a halt to something. That something can be anything, but it’s the driving force that makes some of these films approach greatness. The impulse to avoid something or to alter an emotion have consumed the films in my top 10. An aging director in Pain and Glory desperately tries to avoid the bleak fact that his best years, personally and creatively, are well behind him by avoiding drifting into creative obscurity. In Portrait of a Lady on Fire, two ravishing young women must avoid the passionate feelings they have for each other, no matter how difficult such a task is. Quentin Tarantino ruminates extensively on the concept of altering time. His Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood envisions a world where Charles Manson and his disciples get the ultimate comeuppance. In Uncut Gems there seems to be an inevitable ending that its main character cannot avoid, no matter how tirelessly he tries. And in The Irishman an aging gangster wants so badly to avoid his inner conscious that he tries to avoid his true emotions at all costs, but sometimes trying all your might just isn’t enough.
Below are my Top 30 Movies Of 2019…
30. Joker – Directed by Todd Phillips
29. Atlantics – Directed by Mati Diop
28. I Lost my Body – Directed by Jeremy Clapin
27. The Mustang – Directed by Laure de-Clermont-Tonnerre
26. The Last Black Man in San Fransico – Directed by Joe Talbot
25. One Cut of the Dead – Directed by Shin’ichiro Ueda
24. Hotel by the River – Directed by Sang-soo Hong
23. Transit – Directed by Christian Petzold
22. Shadow – Directed by Yimou Zhang
21. The Souvenir – Directed by Joanna Hogg
20. Long Day’s Journey into Night – Directed by Gan Bi
19. Climax – Directed by Gaspar Noe
18. Ad Astra – Directed by James Gray
17. Ford v Ferrari – Directed by James Mangold
16. Dragged Across Concrete – Directed by S. Craig Zahler
15. Marriage Story – Directed by Noah Baumbach
14. Two Popes – Directed by Fernando Meirelles
13. An Elephant Sitting Still – Directed by Bo Hu
12. The Lighthouse – Directed by Robert Eggers
11. Knives Out – Directed by Rian Johnson
10. The Irishman
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese’s 3 1/2-hour epic and elegiac mob film, surprisingly, doesn’t truly concern itself with the flamboyant moments of being a mobster. The Irishman is more about the agonies and regrets that stay with a mobster long after everyone else disappears and passes away, leaving one with his own thoughts. The film’s first two hours meticulously charts the nuisances of the rise of an Irishman (Robert De Niro) in the mafia and a politician (Al Pacino) going against everything the mob tells him. This is all vintage Scorsese. We’ve seen him channel these topics multiple times, but where the film achieves its mastery is when Scorsese peels away the tough guy veneer and simply beholds a man incapable of overcoming his consciousness. It’s some of the best meditative work Scorsese’s ever done.
9. Pain and Glory – Directed by Pedro Almodóvar
Pain & Glory hones in on the aimless and lonely odyssey of a film director suffering from creative and emotional paralysis. It’s a picture often intermingled with idyllic reveries of the director’s childhood (first realization of life, migrating to another city with his parents, and teaching a brick layer how to read and write). Suffering often from migraines, back pain, insomnia, and an issue with choking whenever he digests food or drinks, Salvador (a powerful Antonio Banderas) is in dire need of a rejuvenation that has to start within himself. Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar could be drawing inspiration from his own life as he, like Salvador, strives to find the glory that’s been eluding him. He creates an aesthetically gorgeous picture that’s achingly mournful, as he paints a striking sense of yearning within an aging man who doesn’t have any true hope he can cling on to. Almodóvar penetrates the sudden vivid childhood memories that swell up in Salvador’s mind, planting us firmly within them, easily recollecting their beauty and making us feel melancholy, and then quickly do they vanish and we are left to endure the emotionally and physically painful present day of his existence. Above all is else, though, the film is about the pain and glory of being alive.
Directed by Kent Jones
First time director Kent Jones (who was originally a film critic) does a wonderful job immersing his viewers in the daily trivial routines of Diane (Mary Kay Place), a middle-aged woman who loves to interact with family and friends, and whose generosity and niceties seem to conceal a soul that has never healed due to past sins. The film has a special allure as it follows Diane during her daily errands and trips to her friends’ home where they frequently discuss death and the incessant passing of time. Jones likes to film a lot of shots through Diane’s car windshield, almost as if placing us inside Diane’s head and giving us her perception of the world. Her perception is tainted by what she’s done years ago, unable to forgive herself even when she tries to do so many right things. The tone of the film may seem calm and somber, but beneath the surface there’s an ungovernable emotion that can’t be subdued and Jones conveys this poetically and hauntingly.
7. Birds of Passage
Directed by Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra
Even though taking place between the years of 1969-1980, Birds of Passage feels archaic because of its intense observance of age-old traditions, superstitions and a heavy reliance on the truths that dreams could provide. Directors Cristina Gallego and Cira Guerra vividly recreate rituals and customs of an indigenous population in northern Colombia, creating a genuinely distinct atmosphere that entices its viewers to become one with it. This eye-popping authenticity is the film’s greatest trait, but its narrative shouldn’t be ignored. Concerning itself with one man’s ambition and greed, Birds of Passage broods on how the two can morally taint a soul and a village for generations. The moral erosion stems from a man who wishes to marry a beautiful young woman, but due to her tribe’s customs the man must provide a hefty dowry to the woman’s family. The film is beautifully and assuredly directed, focusing on every decision its characters are required to make to ensure their well being. This is an engrossing and fantastic picture.
Directed by Sam Mendes
Some films make you want to partake in a certain world they’re evoking, others, like Sam Mendes’ gritty and raw 1917, make you cringe at the mere thought of being a part of a particular world. Mendes’ film starts with two young British soldiers interacting with each other and then beginning to walk to meet their command. They won’t stop walking until film’s end. It’s an astounding feat that Mendes is able to film his entire movie in one long shot without any cuts. This only makes the nightmare that was WWI more immersive and more real. There’s seldom a moment of peace here. The film follows the two young soldiers on an impossible mission through the depths of hell as they deliver an important message in enemy territory that will hopefully stop the slaughter of 1,600 men. Thanks to Thomas Newman’s haunting and unshakable score, 1917 takes on an otherworldly and, at times, spooky and dreamy journey that pits man against their own will and time itself.
5. Little Women
Directed by Greta Gerwig
Louisa May Alcott’s 19th century classic tale of four artistically gifted sisters enduring life’s hardships, thrills, and pangs of romance is captivating in all of its beauty and splendor. Had director Greta Gerwig adhered to Alcott’s linear narrative found in the novel version of “Little Women” the film version would’ve suffered drastically due to a want of emotional resonance. Gerwig’s decision to utilize the flashback scene, which allows her to tell her version in a non-linear fashion, gives her film not only a unique structure that plays with the idea of time and how we recall certain things, but also unanticipated jolts of immense poignancy that are as extraordinary as anything cinema had to offer in 2019. This is the film’s true treasure. By dealing with time and an abundance of overwhelming emotion, Gerwig seizes every opportunity to highlight the two, especially when she’s contemplating childhood’s end, evaporating and burgeoning romances, and the inevitability of death and the passing of time. There’s no shying away from such topics when Gerwig is behind the camera.
4. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Directed by Celine Sciamma
The stares, glances, and gestures that are exchanged by our two main characters (Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel are both spellbinding) in director Céline Sciamma’s newest film contain an abundance of force and desire that words are scarcely necessary. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a ravishing and intoxicating film about the passionate love shared between two 18th century women who must suppress their emotions at all costs. The film finds its vast power not in their actual romance, but in their journey to their romance. As they both are hesitant to display their true affections, self-discovery is right around the corner, but it takes time. Sciamma is patient and treats their initial encounters with much care. She has a painterly eye, positioning her two leads in indelible compositions. Every image on screen is alluring. There isn’t a scene that’s utterly gorgeous. It’s hard to sustain such elegance throughout a film, but Sciamma does. What she also accomplished, even more astonishingly, is that he leads us on a journey that dares to contemplate the rapidity of time and how nothing will last forever.
3. Uncut Gems
Directed by Josh and Benny Safdie
The chaos that’s so effortlessly depicted in Josh and Benny Safdie’s newest masterpiece Uncut Gems is fascinating, exhilarating, and, finally, exhausting, but not in a bad way. It’s unquestionably difficult to sustain such a frenetic pace throughout a film that’s a little over two hours, but this film exhibits that it’s quite possible. Their awareness of the viciousness, the painful, the sad, and the hopelessly hopeful allows this film to achieve an unvarnished and unfiltered portrait of a world quickly spiraling out of control. How they capture the reckless and out joint lifestyles of certain individuals is currently unmatched in contemporary cinema. Adam Sandler’s performance as a man whose life is unraveling is probably the best of the year. His character is addicted to the thrill of staying afloat and watching Sandler completely dominate that role is an absolute privilege. The Safdies have an eye for the ugly and Uncut Gems is a ride in the whirlwind; a descent into the desolate wastelands that few hardly endure, but, God, do they try with all their might.
Directed by Bong Joon Ho
Parasite is a staggering work of art and shocking in its narrative inventiveness. It ferociously tackles social and economic inequality issues, but does so in a way without sermonizing. Korean director Bong Joon-Ho captures masterfully both the angst and frustration percolating within the lower classes who are willing to do anything to remedy their situation and the helplessness, almost infantilism, of the high and mighty wealthy who constantly rely on the services of maids, tutors, and drivers to get them through their day. Bong juxtaposes the two classes so well before allowing them to beautifully collide that we see the drastic differences between the two, but also a startling similarity: both classes are parasitic in nature. The film’s ingenuity is impeccable. The first half shows us the squalor that a family of four endure daily. They soon latch onto a wealthy family of four by deceiving them. Then the second half hurdles us towards unanticipated bloodshed and an audacious, unexpected turn in its narrative, which could’ve easily bogged down the film with another layer for audiences to digest. Yet, Bong’s direction, which is without any fear of juggling comedy and tragedy, is so assured that he’d never allow that to happen. His masterful approach is exhilarating to behold as we watch his command of this narrative soar to new and grander heights just when we think it has reached its apex.
1. Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Tarantino’s astounding new work is an elegiac film, one that so thoroughly expresses its reverence of a bygone era that one can’t help but be moved by what he’s accomplished. It’s undoubtedly, and surprisingly, his warmest and funniest film to date (how he balances the two all the while there’s a constant sense of dread in the air is masterful). An abundance of nostalgia quickly envelops us thanks to the impeccable way Tarantino observes the zeitgeist of 1969. Everything is perfectly in tune from the film’s soundtrack to the sweeping tracking shots of cars zooming around the Hollywood streets at night amidst the grand buildings and huge signs all lit in neon. But where Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood cuts deepest and approaches greatness is when it decides to ruminate on things that have past or are on the verge of fading away. Whether its an era, an actor’s career, a friendship, or life in general Tarantino unabashedly brings to our attention that everything has to come to an end. While this bleak realization should cause mass lamentations, it doesn’t. The unshakeable friendship at the core of the film between the characters played perfectly by Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio prevent that from happening, as they give us a sense of comfort and hope in a world ready to explode at any moment.