First off, my apologies to anyone who’s been waiting for me to get off my ass and publish this list. As I explained back in the first week of January—on my 2019 Under-The-Radar movies list—I needed to see a few more before I felt like I could put this out in the world.
I caught up with a few recent releases on streaming services—reviews to come shortly—and managed to see Just Mercy, a disappointing movie about a good cause, and 1917, which is good, but won’t come close to making my list of the year’s best.
I was hoping to see the Terrence Malick picture, A Hidden Life, which was due this weekend, but it hasn’t shown up in Halifax cinemas. Damn it.
Coincidentally, this week’s also seen the announcement of the 2020 Oscar nominees, with the typical hubbub and controversy. For the record, I thought Gerta Gerwig, Jennifer Lopez, Eddie Murphy, and Lulu Wang should’ve all been nominated, and a few who maybe did get nods didn’t deserve so much recognition.
Here are a selection of movies from 2019 that do deserve all the love. Click on the titles to read my original reviews.
10. Jojo Rabbit New Zealand’s iconoclastic Taika Waititi returns with an outrageous satire about a boy in Nazi Germany who imagines his best friend is Hitler (also Waititi) while his mother hides a Jewish woman in their attic. The frequently uncomfortable laughs swiftly shift to heartbreaking drama in one of 2019’s most surprisingly charming films.
9. Little Women The newest adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s American classic is also the most modern of the many film versions that have come before. Greta Gerwig fragments the narrative and rescues Amy from villainy.
8. The Farewell A lovely film about a Chinese family gathering together with their matriarch as she’s diagnosed with a terminal illness, a fact the family is keeping from her. It sounds like a farce, but Lulu Wang’s autobiographical picture is anything but—the film lays bare people’s need to protect loved ones from the kind of truth they’d rather carry themselves, and Awkwafina’s moving performance roots it.
7. Knives Out Rian Johnson’s perfectly pitched whodunnit provided, next to opening night of Avengers: Endgame, the single best in-cinema experience of the year. Johnson’s plotting, wit, and casting had the crowd in his cinematic palm—full marks for imagining Daniel Craig in the key role of Benoit Blanc.
6. A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood The Fred Rogers biopic astounds not only for diverging from the excellent documentary on the famed American television personality, but for being an ode to the mindful life. Director Marielle Heller is three for three—her first two features were The Diary of a Teenage Girl and Can You Ever Forgive Me?
5. Uncut Gems A movie you endure, you survive, but you’re better for it. A tension-wrought drama about a diamond dealer with a gambling problem, it reminds us Adam Sandler is a genuine dramatic talent when given the right collaborators—in this case the Safdie brothers.
4. Avengers: Endgame The biggest Marvel movie may an industry-dominating monolith, but it’s also a wonderfully satisfying conclusion to a 22-movie narrative arc—directed the Russo brothers, and scripted by Markus and McFeely—that gets better with every rewatch. It’s a new generation’s Star Wars, and it’s what mainstream cinema looks like today. (Sorry, Marty.)
3. Parasite This South Korean film has found a huge audience in North America and a raft of Oscar nominations, the attention richly deserved. Bong Joon Ho’s class-skewering thriller twists and turns, going about a dozen places you won’t expect. (It has reopened in Halifax cinemas this week.)
2. Cold War Officially a 2018 movie, it found its way to cinemas here in 2019, and ended up the year’s great movie romance all done in fewer than 90 minutes—Pawel Pawlikowski’s era-spanning story marries gorgeous music and doomed love with a feather-light touch.
1. Booksmart No other movie in the past year gave me so much joy, and when I’ve had the chance to introduce it to friends, they all got it, too. Olivia Wilde’s astonishing debut is a coming-of-age comedy in the spirit of John Hughes, but politically updated for the 21st Century and jammed full of authentic, heartfelt performances supported by a soundtrack of non-stop bangers. This is an easy pick for the year’s best.
Also under consideration were these quality films: Ad Astra, Bombshell, Dolomite Is My Name, Hustlers, The Laundromat, Marriage Story, Pain & Glory, Portrait Of A Lady On Fire, Queen and Slim, and, of course, these other excellent titles.
For some of the year’s worst films, I’m not going to bother listing them here. I’ve got a category devoted to them if you’re curious.
Thank you, again, for reading this blog. See you at the movies.