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× Talk abut Movies & TV here. Just tell us what you have been watching. Have hyper-academic discussions on visual semiotics. Whatever, it's all good.

jpat's unasked-for, quasi-literate, semi-incomplete best-of in film for 2019

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13 Jan 2020 21:48 #306117 by jpat
This year was a strong year in film overall, and it was hard for me to narrow down my top 10 list to 10, so I didn't. I'm pretty sure I saw more films this year--around 60 2019 releases--than I have in any other year, and there were honestly relatively few clunkers; if anyone cares, I'll post a rest-of list a bit later. Despite pretty heavy moviegoing, aided by a well-run independent cinema in town, I did manage to miss one of the eight Oscar Best Picture nominees, that being Ford v. Ferrari, which I'll get to sometime. There were also some smaller films I missed, such as The Farewell, and I'm counting Portrait of a Lady on Fire as a 2020 release because it doesn't come to my area until March despite being a 2019 release elsewhere.

I like a lot of different movies--probably obviously--but I tend to favor movies that move me in some way: emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, humorously, what have you. The first nine in this list were solid all the way around and I would highly recommend. While still making the cut, the last four I'm a bit more selective about. I think each of them has significant merit in terms of direction, performance, or both while not quite reaching the heights attained by the others.

1. Pain and Glory: My pick for best film of the year, Pain and Glory stars Antonio Banderas as Salvador Mallo, a noted filmmaker who lives with physical and emotional anguish severe enough to keep him from the work he once loved. Over the course of the film, Mallo undergoes a moving series of events and encounters that first drag him down further and then lift him back up. Banderas is gripping in the role, inhabiting it with a rare gravitas. Writer-director Pedro Almodovar admirably avoids overly tidy solutions and easy resolutions.

2. The Lighthouse: A movie that bristles against classification, The Lighthouse might adequately be described as a mix of Lovecraftian cosmic horror, Greek mythology, sailor tall tales, homoeroticism, and flatulence. Or maybe it wouldn’t be adequately described that way. This black-and-white, odd-aspect film is continually off the beaten path and continually mesmerizing.

3. Once upon a Time in Hollywood: Quentin Tarantino’s treatment of the time proximate to the Manson murders manages to cover rich thematic ground while losing none of the filmmaker’s patented ability to shock and provoke laughs, often at the same moment, and to awe with deft camerawork (a standout being the way in which the movie shows a TV episode being filmed and then seamlessly shifts our perspective into that TV show). Brad Pitt and especially Leonardo DiCaprio give masterly performances, and Margot Robbie does a lot with a very little as actress Sharon Tate.

4. Dolemite Is My Name: It seems like once every decade or so, Eddie Murphy carves out a performance that reminds us of how electric a performer he can be when he sets his mind to it and has the right sort of vehicle. In this film, Murphy plays a somewhat fictionalized version of Blaxploitation filmmaker Rudy Ray Moore in an uproarious comedy that is also the best sort of biopic—not one that’s literally factually true in every detail but that turns a life into a compelling, resonant portrayal. Murphy is ably supported by a strong cast, including but not limited to Wesley Snipes and Da’Vine Joy Randolph.

5. Parasite: One of the most visually and substantively striking movies of the year, Parasite is a profound yet highly accessible exploration of class differences. My guess is that it’ll pick up Best International Feature Film at the Oscars, but it’d be a worthy Best Picture as well. If it means anything, it’s been playing continuously at our local nonprofit cinema since it premiered there a couple of months ago.

6. Jojo Rabbit: It’s hard to conceive that a movie in which a young man having Hitler as an imaginary friend would pay off as one of the more profound movies and one of the funnier movies of the year, but Jojo Rabbit pulls off the feat. The cast is phenomenal, and while Scarlett Johansson has probably gotten more attention for her performance in Marriage Story, she’s better here as the mother of the aspiring member of the Hitler Youth whom she tries to deprogram with love and patience. Archie Yates as Jojo’s best friend, Yorki, steals the show.

7. Little Women: If you can sit through this movie without turning into a blubbering mess, you’re a stronger person than me (and maybe also not the kind of person I’d want to be—no offense). Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of the oft-adapted novel by Louisa May Alcott is unabashedly emotional without being sentimental; it earns every laugh and cry it wrings out of you. The cast, both leading and supporting, is uniformly excellent.

8. The Irishman: When a filmmaker of Martin Scorsese’s eminence goes (largely) direct to streaming with an all-star cast, you know that, for better or worse, we’re looking at a sea-change. The Irishman treads familiar ground for the director and employs familiar actors (Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci), but it’s infused with an awareness of mortality and a full-circle storytelling inevitably absent from some of his earlier takes on related themes, such as Goodfellas. The 2019 film only barely and occasionally stretches out a bit, and I regret not seeing it at a theater when I had the chance, but it earns its runtime with memorable performances and auteur camerawork.

9. Booksmart: Oliva Wilde’s feature directorial debut is a sharp, funny coming-of-age story. Comparison to male-centric stories were probably inevitable, but Booksmart charts its own course. Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever are both standouts here as the two leads.

10. Knives Out: Director Rian Johnson returns to good graces and safer ground with this slightly fractured take on the Agatha Christle-style drawing room mystery. Johnson knows how to tweak the Christie tropes without mocking them, and he’s well supported by a solid cast, with Daniel Craig showing just how ready he is to escape the yoke of James Bond with his performance as private detective Benoit Blanc.

11. Uncut Gems: Films can be good, even excellent, without being exactly enjoyable, and that’s the bucket into which Uncut Gems falls. It’s a frenetic, anxiety-provoking look into hustling, gambling, and scheming. Adam Sandler, who’s always had the ability, though seldom realized, to actually act, is perfectly cast here as a small-time businessman trying to make it big.

12. Hustlers: Jennifer Lopez injects vibrant dynamism into this tale of strippers turning the tables on the scammers who indirectly scammed them. Lopez has a solid Oscar shot and would be more than deserving.

13. Joker: This film of the Clown Prince of Crime merits a spot in the top tier not for its originality (it at least owns up to its reliance on Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy for structure and substance) but for the lead performance by Joaquin Phoenix, who continues to impress with his ability to bend a role into submission. Phoenix’s might not be the prototypical Joker, but it attains a firmer grounding in the grit and muck than any previous incarnation, including (I would argue) Heath Ledger’s. Yet 11 Oscar nominations does seem like a bit much.
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13 Jan 2020 23:03 #306122 by DarthJoJo
Thank you for including Booksmart on here. The teen sex comedy has never been my favorite genre, but it has largely lain fallow since Superbad. Booksmart shows there’s still something worth exploring in the genre and pushed it farther than anything before it did. And Olivia Wilde is still working. That’s great.

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13 Jan 2020 23:34 - 13 Jan 2020 23:57 #306125 by Frohike
So if you're in the afterglow of The Lighthouse and want to double down (short of a rewatch, which is also nice), I recommend another b&w film with some macabre moments, a bit less claustrophobia, a few more incongruously humorous moments and some... psychedelically resonant atmosphere: Dead Man, by Jim Jarmush. Good pairing, though admittedly somewhat heavy on the black & white aesthetic.
Last edit: 13 Jan 2020 23:57 by Frohike.
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13 Jan 2020 23:58 #306128 by Brewmiester

Frohike wrote: So if you're in the afterglow of The Lighthouse and want to double down (short of a rewatch), I recommend another b&w film with some macabre moments, a bit less claustrophobia, a few more incongruously humorous moments and some... psychedelically resonant moments: Dead Man, by Jim Jarmush


I finally got to see The Lighthouse last week and Jim is lecturing at IU Cinema at the end of the month and they are showing Dead Man that night.
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14 Jan 2020 00:25 #306129 by Frohike

Brewmiester wrote:

Frohike wrote: So if you're in the afterglow of The Lighthouse and want to double down (short of a rewatch), I recommend another b&w film with some macabre moments, a bit less claustrophobia, a few more incongruously humorous moments and some... psychedelically resonant moments: Dead Man, by Jim Jarmush


I finally got to see The Lighthouse last week and Jim is lecturing at IU Cinema at the end of the month and they are showing Dead Man that night.


I'd jump on that.

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14 Jan 2020 21:03 #306152 by Brewmiester

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