The Academy Awards, which are supposed to celebrate what those in the movie business consider the best of 2019, is here. Always a good time to take stock of what the year in cinema meant to audiences and critics, the following list contains one person’s thoughts on the best of the best:
FORD V FERRARI
The saying, ‘they don’t make em like they used to,’ gets bandied about a lot these days in reference to going to the movies. James Mangold, veteran of professional, compelling genre fare (‘Girl, Interrupted’, ‘Walk the Line’, ‘Logan’), crafted a thematically old-fashioned but technically brilliant crowd-pleaser. Christian Bale and Matt Damon are in full movie star mode in the best possible ways and the bravura racing sequences are absolutely breathtaking . . .
Elizabeth Moss is flat out spectacular in this five–act structured portrait of a 90s rock star in decline. Each extended sequence is a snapshot of her relationships with her band mates, producer, and ex, bridged by convincing flashbacks of happier days that look like they were shot on home video. Writer/Director Alex Ross Perry gets fully lived in performances from his small group of actors, and with his attention to detail crafts an immersive, authentic character study . . .
As evidenced by his sprawling mobster/Teamster epic, ‘The Irishman’, Martin Scorcese still has interesting stories to tell. This Netflix production wrangled the dream team of DeNiro, Pacino, and Pesci to craft the tale of Frank Sheeran, the titular center of a film that posits the fate of Jimmy Hoffa. All of Scorcese’s trademarks are on display in this 3 1/2 hour movie, overcast with a meditative tone that effectively simulates the passage of time and the trials of aging . . .
TOY STORY 4
There was a real sense of WHY in regards to another entry in this franchise, particularly because the third film was such a seemingly poignant capper, but somehow, someway, the minds behind Pixar pull it off beautifully. ‘Toy Story 4’ still contains all the wonder, laughs, and emotional attachment as its predecessors, but somehow transcends their very nature with a smaller, powerful film about aging, parenting, fulfillment of purpose, yearning, and companionship . . .
JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM
It’s hard to describe the experience of ‘John Wick 3′, at once truly absurd, exhausting, and exhilarating. Quite frankly, no other action franchise conveys the care and brilliance of its set up, whether it’s the intricacy of the mythology or the cavalcade of interesting characters – friends, foes, and everything in between. The level of detail and care that go into every fight and chase scene is incomparable to films of its ilk, and it shows, in every pulse-pounding, fist-pumping, squeal-inducing minute . . .
Experiencing this film is to watch a master of the form meticulously construct an ever evolving narrative through character, setting, and, while taking place in Seoul, South Korea, the universal theme of income disparity. Director Bong Joon-ho’s mastery renders the proceedings extremely entertaining, while titillating and unnerving, making ‘Parasite’ really like nothing else before it, a true original modern fable. It won the Palme D’Or, the highest honor at the Cannes film festival for a reason, as it represents cinema’s ability to completely transfix, transport, and maybe even transform the audience . . .
Ari Aster makes films that mess you up in a profound way. After only two films, he has proven to be an auteur of abject terror, writing and directing pieces of art that work on multiple levels to deeply unsettle. Here he works with multiple creatives to craft a fully lived in society, complete with rich history and ritual, unique art and architecture, all unfolding over a truly captivating, tried-and-true folk-horror movie setup centering on an incredible performance by Florence Pugh. What this all amounts to is an instant cult horror masterwork . . .
The culmination of over a decade of a film series that has truly captured the imagination of the entire world. In an era of increasingly segregated ploys for popular attention, streaming services and cord cutting, can anything really claim the same sustained attention paid to the movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe? It’s fitting that the Marvel/Disney braintrust would use this opportunity to stroll through the entire catalog, celebrating the varied and deep bench of acting talent that has supported and built this juggernaut, in a truly unique, riveting, undeniably entertaining, and wholly earned emotional experience . . .
Love him or hate him, there is no denying Adam Sandler is a unique comedic talent and an unbridled force of nature. The Safdie Brothers effectively tap into that raw nerve of manic energy, and the end result is nothing short of a cinematic miracle. It’s a NYC-based showcase for the star, supported by a pool of talented actors and non-professional players from the world of sports, music, and local flavor. A movie the Safdies and co. were born to deliver, ‘Uncut Gems’ is an unmatched thrill ride inside the mind of a gambler who pushes the limits of chance in every aspect of his crazed existence. Just like the opal of the title, it’s a film so relentless in its brilliance, it might just make heads explode . . .
ONCE UPON A TIME IN . . . HOLLYWOOD
Marked as writer/director Quentin Tarantino’s 9th film, ‘Once Upon A Time In . . . Hollywood,’ powerfully sneaks up on an audience primed by some of his past films to expect bombast and energy. A filmmaker so obviously deeply in love with cinema, who has flexed his vast knowledge and ear for dialogue in the past, instead chooses to luxuriate in a fabricated ideal world and hang with characters compiled from real sources. QT uses all the tricks of the modern day to painstakingly reconstruct the 1969 Hollywood in his mind, with Sharon Tate its symbolic sun for all to revolve around. The movie is a constant reminder of the timeless theme of generational divide, yet it focuses on a very particular time in the industry and the country, when the dark underbelly that was always there below the surface menaced and then flooded the art form and the discourse around it. The film seems like his most personal one yet, truly delivering a representation of his inner fantasy of what the movies meant to him in the past and where he sees himself in the present. What’s amazing about it, and his true mastery of the form, has been his ability to take his audience on that same film-loving journey through the decades, through different genres seen through his truly unique lens, resulting in a movie that can only be described as a Tarantino fairy tale, right there in what turns out to be a surprisingly un-ironic title . . .
P.S. – There were a few notable nominees missed this year that may have made this list had they ben seen, particularly ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood‘, ‘Little Women’, ‘Jojo Rabbit’, ‘The Two Popes’ & ‘Bombshell’.
Also honorable mentions must be acknowledged for the very good ‘Marriage Story’, ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’, ‘Knives Out’, and the technically proficient exercise that is ‘1917’ . . .