I know I said I’m not blogging much in 2020, but I couldn’t resist doing a few of my “Best of” lists.
First, this is a list of the best films I saw in 2019. Some of these films came out in 2019, some in years past. Some Oscar films I didn’t see until 2020 started.
Anyway, here’s what I liked. Y’all know I rate everything I see for the first time on Twitter. To make the honorable mentions, I had to give the film at least a four…and there were A LOT. Great year for cinema, in my view.
Everything else is ranked with hindsight; which is why some lower-rated films may come higher on my list now than when I first saw them.
TOP 15 IN 2019
15: #BlacKkKlansman There’s nothing subtle about Spike Lee’s best film in over a decade, but damn if it isn’t the film we needed. Washington and Driver deliver perfect performances, while the story is compelling, entertaining and educational. A must see. 4.5/5*
14: #TheyShallNotGrowOld The photography is just stunning; never seen anything like it. A more intimate portrayal of war has never been made. Jackson outdid himself with the story as well; stitching together 1-2 liner quotes to develop complex themes and a compelling story. 4.5/5*
13: #ColdWar Even if you don’t like subtitled films, this one is worth it. It’s spare on the dialogue, relying on its stunning cinematography and pitch perfect performances from its leads to tell its story. The story sneaks up on you; probably need a rewatch to get it all. 4/5*
12: #Rocketman The best musical biopic in years (including BR). So many films have chronicled the ride – the ups, downs, etc. But this is the first (or among the first) where you really FELT it. Taron Egerton delivers a once-in-a-generation, transformative performance. 4.5/5*
11: #BlindedByTheLight may be a familiar story, but it’s done so well and with such flair and earnestness that it’s impossible to resist (and to not develop a new appreciation for The Boss at the same time). Great performances, confident, go-for-broke direction and storytelling. 4/5*
10: #IfBealeStreetCouldTalk Another moody, understated and textured film from Barry Jenkins, which is better than his previous outing – 2017 Best Picture Moonlight. Hits on a lot of themes without seeming packed, makes its points without being preachy. Solid photography as well. 5/5*
9: #ABeautifulDayInTheNeighborhood could’ve been schmaltzy or an exercise in melodrama. But it’s done so well and with such a light, yet confident touch that it makes its predictable lessons inspirations. Hanks delivers a nuanced, transformative, Oscar worthy performance. 4.5/5*
8: #Joker is a brilliant film, all the way around. Phoenix puts on a masterclass in acting, delving deeper into the madman than anyone before. Phillips steps up huge as a director, delivering a confident, stylish film. Can’t wait to see The Batman and how this plays into it. 5/5*
7: #FORDvFERRARI A welcome return to form for Matt Damon, and another fabulous performance from Christian Bale. Their chemistry is fantastic in a film that has great story, terrific photography and confident direction from Mangold. 1st act too long; other parts moved too fast. 4/5*
6: #LittleWomen The non-linear telling injects life and urgency into the narrative, which rides on the chemistry of its incredibly talented cast, all performing at the top of their respective games. The photography is beautiful, of course. Unearned final moments…on purpose? 4.5/5*
5: #OfficialSecrets An amazing story, and an equally impressive performance from Knightly. Slow burn cerebral political thriller which takes its time rolling out its themes and story but the result is stunning…and quite scary when you think about it. Terrific supporting cast. 4/5*
4: #TheIrishman more than earns its 3.5 hour run time. It takes a while to find its grove, but once it does, it glides. In many ways, it’s Forrest Gump meets Goodfellas, and it’ll go down as a masterpiece of crime history cinema for Scorsese. Pesci & Pacino especially amaze. 4.5/5*
3: #KnivesOut Ana de Armas absolutely kills it (geddit?) as the true lead here, holding her own with an all-star cast at the top of their respective games. Rian Johnson delivers an entertaining thrill-edy, with enough twists and turns to keep us surprised along the way. 4.5/5*
2: #1917Movie is a cinematic achievement equal or better than many of the best films of the decade. Deakins’ photography is stunning & Mendes’ balls-to-the-wall direction finds time for true human moments amongst the action and explosions. An absolute must see in the theaters. 5/5*
1: #AvengersEndgame Thank you. 4.5/5*. I’ll expand this now to say that while you may not be into superhero films (I’m looking at you, Scorsese), A:EG is a huge cinematic achievement that will not be replicated again anytime soon. That cast, that good of a conclusion to a 22 film saga, that much fan involvement…if that’s not a Best Picture nomination, I don’t know what is.
(The rest that are 4 starts or up)
#Arctic Mads Mikkelsen, of course, is the entire film, and he puts on a true acting clinic here. Every bit as strong as Hanks and Redford in their one-man survival films. Photography is well done, and though some deus ex machina is expected, it’s kept to a spare minimum. 4.5/5*
#Booksmart Leave it to @oliviawilde to manage to find a fresh spin on the out-all-night-end-of-high-school comedy. There wasn’t a false note to be found, the story managed to defy expectations yet stay within the confines of the genre and I laughed my ass off. 4/5*
#JohnWick3 Some of the best hand-to-hand and run-and-gun fight sequences in cinema history, without question. Keanu Reeves delivers – as always – as does his supporting cast. Wick’s world gets wider with each installment, which is always a good thing in this franchise. 4/5*
#TheLastBlackManInSanFrancisco is a wonderful meditation on a great many social issues, focused on gentrification and how we handle change in our lives. Though far too long, it’s a compelling tale with great performances and stacked with beautiful imagery & a haunting score. 4/5*
#LongShot One of the best romantic comedies in years largely due to the fantastic turns from Rogen and Theron, the latter continuing to prove she can perform almost any role, anywhere, anytime. Works on a few levels; somewhat surprisingly, this is also a film with a message. 4/5*
#ThePublic is a little uneven, but its worthy themes and characters far outweigh its faults. The cast is fantastic, and the low-key setup allows them room to run. A bit long in the middle with a too-short third act, but the message stays with you long after the credits. 4/5*
#TheWife When these types of movies work, it’s on the strength of the performances, and this one is no exception. Glenn Close is phenomenal, so much so that I want to go back and watch the beginning, knowing what I know now, to watch her entire arc in her facial expressions. 4/5*
#ViceMovie Christian Bale is a sight to behold in this all too dark comedy, but often the real star is Amy Adams, whose performance is nearly as transformative and character something of a revelation. Narrative lacks in focus, but remains compelling and hits home hard. 4/5*
#YesterdayMovie For my money, Richard Curtis writes some of the best romantic comedies in the history of cinema, and this is another to add to his collection. Sweet, funny and throughly enjoyable, with earnest performances from Patel and James. Great music, obviously. 4/5*