Monday, December 23

Monte's Favorite Films 2019

Monte’s Favorite Films of 2019

As the final credits roll on a rather confounding decade for society, the film landscape of the last 10 years has been an exceptional canvas of larger-than-life movie marvels, eye-opening documentaries, beautifully crafted dramas about the best and worst of humanity, surprising social commentaries shrouded in genre fairytales, and some staggeringly heartfelt tributes to romance and love. 

2019 continued the forward progression of storytelling and the upward innovation of artistry found in the filmmaking techniques. With films from seasoned auteurs like Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Claire Denis, Pedro Almodóvar, and Bong Joon ho displaying the how and why these filmmakers are regarded with such esteem to new filmmakers like the Safdie Brothers, Ari Aster, Jordan Peele, Robert Eggers, Céline Sciamma flexing and honing their voices with captivating cinema. 

Here are my favorite films of 2019…

Honorable Mentions:
  • 1917
  • A Long Day’s Journey into the Night
  • Apollo 11
  • Ash is the Purest White
  • Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
  • The Biggest Little Farm
  • Doctor Sleep
  • Good Boys
  • I Lost My Body
  • Little Women
  • Motherless Brooklyn
  • Monos
  • The Nightingale
  • Peanut Butter Falcon
  • Rolling Thunder Revue
  • Shazam!
  • Starfish

30. Climax

An assault on the senses, Gaspar Noé crafts easily his most audience-friendly film…and yet it’s still going to infuriate and confound viewers. Still, it’s nice to see a filmmaker introduce and indulge in complete stylistic chaos for 97 minutes.

29. Fast Color

In a year marked by so many comic book films, “Fast Color” is a fresh and unique exploration of the superhero mythology told with a strong performance from Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Its simplicity and attention to emotions of love and sacrifice are exceptionally rendered. 

28. Knives Out 

A meticulously crafted environment and story, with one of the best acting ensembles of recent memory, Rian Johnson displays a masterful understanding of how to craft a good ol’ fashioned whodunit. 

27. The Farewell

In a world of complicated diversity, cultural misunderstandings, and the loss of tradition, “The Farewell” provides an impressive narrative about the complex interpersonal dynamics in a Chinese family. Touching and heartfelt with a powerful final act. 

26. Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror

Watching how horror has changed and morphed throughout history displays a genre that is so much more than simple scares and buckets of blood…it's a genre of history, culture, race, gender, and society that has defined and inspired representations, both negative and positive, throughout cinematic history. 

25. Dolemite is my Name

A funny, heartfelt, and passionate ode to renaissance performer Rudy Ray Moore, the independent filmmaking process, and also the career of comedian Eddie Murphy who gives one the best performances of his career here. Also, watch for Wesley Snipes who steals every single scene he is in. 

24. Booksmart

A hilarious coming-of-age film directed by Olivia Wilde and lead by the talented Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein playing best friends in high school. It's raunchy and crude in moments, some extremely funny moments, but also sweet and filled with so much heart and youthful spirit. 

23. Honeyland

A documentary about a beekeeper living in an isolated mountain region in the Balkans proves more contemplative and eye-opening about the balance of industry, nature, and personal relationships than many other films this year. This is exceptional documentary filmmaking

22. Jojo Rabbit 

“Jojo Rabbit” is both an emotional and hilarious satire. Taika Waititi understands when to push for laughs with comical representations of Nazi Germany but also how to display the realistic horror of the holocaust and the people involved in the atrocities. It’s a balancing act that Mr. Waititi deftly handles. 

21. Transit 

“Transit”, based on the 1942 Anna Segher novel, takes the original story and morphs it into a more modern atmosphere while keeping the thrilling, complicated, and unsettling components of the narrative intact. It’s a great example of how an adaptation of source material doesn’t need to be exact to make an impact. 

20. The Lighthouse

Director Robert Eggers, in his second feature film, makes a bold decision to craft a mashup genre film lead by two amazing performances from Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. He also chooses to shot this film in stark black and white square full-frame photography, assisted with the authentic antiquated seafaring language of the late 1800s. The result is a strange yet entrancing film that is a claustrophobic, confined tale of madness. Robert Eggers is the most interesting filmmaking voice working currently.   

19. Toy Story 4 

By the time “Toy Story 4” arrived, children grew into teenagers and now into adults with families and possibly children of their own; that’s the best part of having this new tale available, as an opportunity to experience cinema together as a family. “Toy Story 4” shouldn’t be this good but it is. The story of Woody and Buzz and the family they have collected continues to offer valuable lessons about growing up and growing mature. 

18. The Souvenir

Joanna Hogg, writer and director here, crafts an impressive drama set in the 1980s with “The Souvenir”. Honor Swinton Byrne, perfectly cast here as a film student named Julie who is in a concerning relationship with a charismatic man, is exceptional throughout the film. However, Joanna Hogg’s confident direction and intricate portrayal of romance make “The Souvenir” something extra special. 

17. Tigers are not Afraid 

Three magic wishes are given to a group of orphaned children trying to escape awful circumstances chasing them in Mexico. Filmmaker Issa López crafts a magical horror tale grounded in the realism of trauma. Utilizing horror and fantasy elements to tell a stunning tale of social commentary, loss of innocence, and the beautiful power of youth. It is a film unlike any you will see this year. 

16. A Hidden Life

Terrence Malick has crafted some of the most visually stunning films of all time. “A Hidden Life” is gorgeously composed, the stunning images throughout tell an ambitious and contemplative narrative surrounding faith, love, and honor. Malick masterfully and meticulously crafts emotional and heartfelt scenes in this film, a few being the best of his recent filmmaking career. 

15. Her Smell

"Her Smell" is a story of a former 90’s punk rock superstar who is dealing with her lesser stardom at an age in life where rockstar antics tend to have a harsher consequence. Elisabeth Moss plays Becky Something with complete, crude, unabashed confidence, handling the emotional shifts in a genuine way while also allowing the character to grow and change without losing the primal quality of her punk rock demeanor. It is Moss’s both aggressive and restrained performance that makes “Her Smell” something to seek out. 

14. Us

Filmmaker Jordan Peele continues to tell deeper stories about history, culture, and race concerns; with his sophomore effort, the director tells a story filled with numerous pathways, each with big and bold ideas that could each have their own story to explore. “Us” feels like a contemporary “Twilight Zone” episode come to life. Peele deftly controls the narrative and filmmaking elements throughout, timing out scares with precision and building a nice family dynamic story structure. It’s clear that Jordan Peele understands the power of genre storytelling.

13. John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum 

The “John Wick” action franchise continues to enhance its blend of brutal, bloody, barbaric action, composing fight and chase sequences with so much artful attention that it’s impossible to look away. Keanu Reeves is exceptional in the lead role and the story, however convoluted, continues to push the boundaries of where this franchise can go. Prepare for a war of the senses in the best way possible.  

12. High Life 

The great Claire Denis returned this year with a bizarre and captivating space tale that combined familiar sci-fi genre characteristics with exceptional emotional character development and world-building. The design is elegant and elaborate, visually striking from start to finish, Denis continues to stun with her challenging and inspiring moments of pure cinema. 

11. Atlantics

There was no stronger debut film in 2019 than Mati Diop’s suspenseful, sensual, supernatural fairytale "Atlantics". The French-Senegalese director masterfully crafts an emotional tale grounded in the reality of everyday Dakar culture and society. The film makes a mid-film shift that turns it into something completely different, an unnerving ghost story of vengeance mixed with masterful strokes of social commentary. It’s magical realism at its best. 

10. Uncut Gems 

There are movies that build tension, that craft an atmosphere of anxiety that inches the viewer closer and closer to the edge of their seat. The Safdie Brothers have taken the elements of tension, nervousness, and distress, mashed them together, and have crafted a film that lives and breathes these concepts. Anchored by an exceptional performance by Adam Sandler, one of the best of the actor’s career, “Uncut Gems” revels in the unease of sitting passenger seat with a character on the verge of self-destruction…you won’t want to look away. 

9. Midsommar 

“Midsommar” is only the second film from director Ari Aster, who last helmed the terrifying “Hereditary”, and it only continues to strengthen the captivating style and unique voice of the filmmaker. Mr. Aster, amongst many qualities as a filmmaker, understands how one can utilize genre characteristics to tell emotionally complicated stories. “Midsommar” demonstrates that sometimes the scariest monster isn’t a monster at all, sometimes it’s the emotion connected with the fear of loss and the outlook towards the unknown or misunderstood elements of the world we live in. 

8. One Cut of the Dead

The zombie subgenre of horror is completely oversaturated, but it hasn’t stopped inventive filmmakers from utilizing the living dead to tell creative stories about humanity, society, and culture. “One Cut of the Dead” does something truly inventive here, a narrative design that is best left to discovery than a cheap spoiler, composing a film that is lighthearted, funny, and sweet. It’s more than a B-movie horror film, it’s an ode to the process of creativity and creation, to the joy of chasing a dream and dedicating oneself to achieving the goal no matter what stands in your way.  

7. Pain & Glory

Director Pedro Almodóvar uses the story of a depressed, lonely, and physically affected film director named Salvador, a subtle yet intricate performance from Antonio Banderas, to discuss the multifaceted emotional process of artistic development. Almodóvar is a director who utilizes melodramatic narrative properties to craft films bold and confident yet bustling with a sense of complete freedom. “Pain & Glory” has those same flourishes but the emotion is toned down from the usual roar the director’s films usually compose. The result is a beautiful examination of growth, the creative and emotional process that happens throughout the journey of life. It’s a beautiful tale of love and loss, of maturity and identity, of creation and destruction. 

6. Marriage Story

There is a good possibility that I will never watch “Marriage Story” again. Not because it’s a terrible movie but because of its brutal honesty in dissecting a terrible situation, divorce. Filmmaker Noah Baumbach, in what can only be a story written from an experiential account, takes focus on the final days of a marriage between Charlie and Nicole played with tenderness and honesty by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. The brilliance of “Marriage Story” is in the compassion it finds between two emotionally complicated characters, never taking defensive sides or allowing for easy answers. This is one of Baumbach’s best films. 

5. The Irishman 

“The Irishman” comes at an interesting time in the career of Martin Scorsese who recently has come under criticism from some film fans concerning his views on the state of cinema. The film is a subjective art-form, but if anyone has the right to make comments on the art of cinema, it’s Martin Scorsese. If the auteur’s past catalog doesn’t prove that point, “The Irishman” displays all the reasons why cinema should be regarded with the kind of seriousness Scorsese commands. With standout performances from Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci, this film is the greatest hits of everything that the auteur has been tailoring, sometimes perfecting, throughout his storied career. 

4. Last Black Man in San Francisco

The word “home” elicits so many different emotions and visions. It might be a place, a person, a smell, a piece of food, a feeling…for Jimmie in Joe Talbot’s striking debut, “The Last Black Man in San Francisco”, it’s the physical family house in San Francisco that he grew up. Jimmie played poignantly by Jimmie Fails, is connected to this location, it’s a piece of his identity that defines who he is as a person in the ever-changing landscape of San Francisco. “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” is more than just a story about gentrification, it’s about the history, culture, and tradition that composes the identity of the person and the place one calls “home”. 

3. Portrait of a Lady on Fire

An artist is tasked with painting a portrait of a lady, who refuses to pose for the rendering, on the verge of being married to a distant suitor. The painter must disguise her true intentions, painting the portrait of the lady by firelight from recollections captured during walks and discussions. Through the artistic process, the two women form a romantic bond. “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” is a soulful, beautiful costume drama, from director Céline Sciamma, that takes an intimate look at love, femininity, and empowerment. The portrayal of love, the emotional and physical depictions, throughout the film is meticulously and subtly composed. Longing glances, delicate gestures, and the formation of the love language all contribute to the complicated nature of these two women’s romance. There is rarely a misstep in Sciamma’s exceptional story and style. 

2. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” has everything that Quentin Tarantino loves about films imbued into its design yet it still feels farthest from the style he is known for. There are flares of vocabulary, perfect musical cues, and the occasional scene of brutal and bloody violence, but the underlying tone in Tarantino’s ninth film is something sweet and personal. The introspection shown in regards to the aspects of the film that Tarantino loves so deeply and the history that permeates every single inch of this film gives “Once Upon a Time…” its beautiful beating heart. And through the journey of an aging movie star, played impeccably by Leonardo DiCaprio, and his stunt-doubling best pal, one of the best performances from Brad Pitt, Tarantino deliberates on his own relevance as a filmmaker in the changing landscape of film. It’s a beautiful, somber, and touching film. 

1. Parasite

“Parasite”, director Bong Joon-ho’s masterful multi-mood drama, comedy, thriller, horror film, is working on numerous emotions, sometimes individually and sometimes all at once. Bong Joon-ho taps into uneasy subject matter and then easily finds a way to see the unflinching humor within these truths, he introduces fascinating characters who are pushed into complicated situations and forced to navigate the many obstacles, he finds the humor, honesty, and humor of real life, and surprisingly amongst all these attributes easily finds the metaphors that shed light on cultural, political, and social commentary. Bong Joon-ho simply has a keen understanding of people and what motivates them to do both beautiful and disgusting things. “Parasite” is a fascinating exploration of humanity in the best film of the auteur’s career. 

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