2019 in Review: The Best Films of the Year

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The film going experience is such a personal one. Yes, we may attend the next Avengers or Beanpole with someone or someones, but at the end of the day, the films you like may not be the person’s next to you cup of tea. For instance The African American Critics Association chose Jordan Peele’s haunting Universal film, Us, as its best film of the year. Where the Geek’s good friend, Chicago critic Jeff York, picked Bong Joon Ho’s glorious Parasite.

Both amazing films (though I have a problem with Us’ third act) and both worthy in each of their eyes as “Best Film of 2019.” I can guarantee you that there is someone out there who believes Cats is the best film of the year.

It all really comes down to personal taste. What truly moved you? What made you laugh? What made you cry? What film stays with you weeks after you’ve seen it?

So, don’t take what we at Reel 360 believe to be the “Best Films of 2019” as law. You may disagree with our choices and think we are idiots. But you may also agree and applaud us. Perhaps we will spark curiosity in a film you haven’t seen just yet.

So without further adieu, here are our “Best Films of 2019.” They are all 5 Ball Point Pen worthy.

10. Ad Astra

Directed by James Gray| Written by James Gray and Ethan Gross

At its heart, the spectacular and exhilarating Ad Astra is simply about a son looking for his dad who abandoned him. The story just happens to take place on the outskirts of our solar system. Director James Gray borrows elements of Apocalypse Now, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Gravity and weaves them together into a tapestry of one of 2019’s most visually satisfying films.

Brad Pitt turns in one of two award-worthy performances (the other for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) this year as a cool, collected and by-the-rules astronaut who ends up breaking of all his codes in order to find his father (Tommy Lee Jones) who disappeared on a mission to Neptune 30-some years earlier.

The title’s Latin meaning says it all, “Through hardships to the stars.” Major Roy McBride’s (Pitt) difficult journey to his father, and in turn, his own self-realization about his own faults is both sincere and loving.

9. The Irishman

Directed by Martin Scorsese| Written by Steven Zaillian

Seventeen days later, I have finished Martin Scorsese’s brilliant The Irishman. Okay, that’s a joke. Sort of. In actuality, the iconic director’s Netflix film is an opus on the level with The Godfather and his own Goodfellas.

As a kid I remember such Philadelphia mobsters Angelo Bruno being gunned down on the city’s streets. I knew of this Jimmy Hoffa guy who was supposed to be buried in the end zone of Giants’ Stadium in New Jersey. I was naive at the time to believe he was buried there by choice.

But thanks to Scorsese, who hates superhero films (Sorry Marty, had to add that), we learn all about the Philly mobs and more in this epic autobiographical pic. In the 1950s, truck driver Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) gets involved with Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) and his Pennsylvania crime family. As Sheeran climbs the ranks to become a top hit man, he also goes to work for Hoffa (Al Pacino) — the powerful Teamster tied to organized crime.

The film is intimate, brutal and loving all at the same time, reminiscent of HBO’s The Sopranos. De Niro, Pesci and Pacino are all in top form and one can’t help but feel sorry for Sheeran when he is the last man standing (with crutches and walkers), left in a retirement home to mourn his old life.

8. booksmart

Directed by Olivia Wilde| Written by Katie Silberman

I did not laugh at a film in 2019 as hard as I did at Olivia Wilde’s smart (pun intended) and riotous Booksmart. The coming-of-age tale about two academic overachievers Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) makes valid and insightful points about friendship and living life to the fullest while doing it in a hard-R setting.

On the eve of graduation, we follow the two as they discover they have studied their way through high school and have not lived anywhere near as much as their counterparts. The two set out to cram 4 years of high school into one hilarious night as they attempt to lose their virginities.

Their adventures are chaotic, unexpected and original. The film did so-so at the box office and it really did deserve so much better.

7. Dolemite is My Name

Directed by Craig Robinson| Written by Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander

I’ve always loved Eddie Murphy. I grew up in a time when he was the dirty, filthy Murphy from SNL, 48 Hours, Trading Places, Delirious, Coming to America, Beverly Hills Cop. I even rooted for the comedian after the terrible The Golden Child. I cheered his Oscar nomination for Dreamgirls. And my kids were introduced to the “family guy” version of Murphy during the Daddy Day Care, Haunted Mansion and Dr. Doolittle days.

After disappearing from the scene for a minute, Murphy has come back roaring in Craig Robinson’s (Hustle and Flow, Black Snake Moan) funny and inspiring story about dirty 1970’s comedian Rudy Ray Moore in Dolemite is My Name.

Scribes Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander (The People vs. Larry Flynt, The People vs. OJ Simpson, Big Eyes) give Murphy the vehicle he needed for a comeback. A real comeback. Murphy disappears into the bigger-than-life Moore known as “The Harlem Hillbilly.” If you go beneath the dirty jokes and poems and the outrageous comedy, you will find a desperate man who just wants to entertain people. With door after door slammed shut in his face, Rudy finally finds a way and runs with it. As does Murphy with this role. Also notable is Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Lady Reed. Give that sista a nom!

The film is vulgar, outrageous, all-over-the place at times. In a way, it is the perfect reflection of a artist’s life.

6. Uncut Gems

Directed by Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie| Josh Safdie, Ronald Bronstein, Benny Safdie

There is no film on this list that can potentially give you a seizure or stroke upon viewing more than the Safdie brothers’ Uncut Gems. The film is a frenetic attack on the senses with actors talking on top of each other, a seemingly acid-induced color palette and a pounding score. Set in 2012, Adam Sandler gives the performance of his life as a charismatic New York City jeweler who has a massive gambling problem and debt.

Sandler’s Howard Ratner plays his life -namely his family, business and adversaries – like the bets he places on high-stakes games. We cringe with Howard as he makes every impulsive and stupid move, but like his mistress (played by newcomer Julia Fox) and even his soon-to-be-ex wife Dinah (Idina Menzel), we want him to win.

Of course Sandler is known for mostly mediocre to unwatchable comedies, but shame on voters if they ignore his riveting and sad performance. Sometimes Uncut Gems is hard to watch as we witness Howard’s life spiral out of control, but it’s an important film of 2019.

ALSO READ: 2019 in Review: The Best of “Reel Ad of the Week”

5. Rocketman

Directed by Dexter Fletcher| Written by Lee Hall

Dexter Fletcher’s Rocketman is everything 2018’s Bohemian Rhapsody wanted to be. Taren Egerton breathes life into the already larger-than-life Elton John. We follow him on a raucous journey as Young Reginald Dwight changes his name to Elton John and collaborates with singer-songwriter Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) to become one of the most iconic figures in pop history.

The colors are stunning, the settings electric, the cinematography wonderful. It allows us to rise with Elton and sink with him as well.

The film seems to owe a lot to the 1970’s Who musical Tommy (directed by Ken Russell) as the story of the international superstar’s journey moves fluidly back and forth between different time periods. Instead of showing us the origin of the infamous songs, Fletcher smartly uses them to underscore the situation we’re watching. The technique makes Rocketman a musical biopic and not a biopic with music.

The film should have done better at the box office – it grossed just under $100 million here – but if people take the time to discover it on cable, streaming or DVD, they will see Rocketman, like Elton, is still standing.

4. Marriage Story

Written and directed by Noah Baumbach

There is probably not a more honest treatment of a marriage falling apart while trying to keep yourself together than Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story. If you have been through divorce, then you will recognize many of the conversations between Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson).

The sobering character study makes Marriage Story difficult to watch. You feel the couple’s pain and fear of splitting up. Charlie, who is used to being in control of everything from the New York theater company to his marriage, must learn to let go. Nicole loves being on her own, but has to understand Charlie will always be in her life because of their son.

The film is also a commentary on divorce lawyers and LA, both of whom Baumback skewers via razor sharp performances by Laura Dern, Ray Liotta and Alan Alda.

Did I cry at the end of this powerful film? Of course I did, it opened old wounds and a cabinet of regret, but like Charlie and Nicole, I did discover how to deal with them.

This is Johansson’s best performance.

3. Parasite

Directed by Bong Joon-ho| Written by Bong Joon-ho, Han Jin-won

All year long, my number one film, was going to be Avengers: Endgame. Why? Well, I’m a geek and I’ll get into the other reasons in a bit. However, in the fall, two films came along that could snap Captain America and company out of that number one slot.

Parasite was one of them. Obviously it didn’t, but the Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer) film came awfully close as it is a perfect film.

Perfectly constructed. Perfectly cast. Perfectly shot. And rife with what I like to call “Oh shit” moments where the stakes aren’t just raised, they create an entirely new film.

I don’t want to give away too much about the plot, which at its core is about greed and class discrimination between a wealthy Korean family and a destitute one. I will say that this masterpiece skewers class structure in a witty and dark manner. You won’t forget Parasite once you’ve seen it.

Like the Kim family, the film will live with you and take you over.

2. Avengers: Endgame

Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo| Written by Stephen McFeely, Christopher Markus

Many critics (and awards shows) will relegate this amazing culmination of 22 films over 10 years to the special effects categories. And that’s a travesty. While Joaquin Phoenix gave an amazing performance in Joker, which is now turning on many Top Ten lists, the script was rather pedestrian.

The highest grossing film of all time was spectacular and deserved every dollar. The Russos along with writers McFeely and Markus juggled over 50 characters from film dating back to 2008’s Iron Man. And they did it smoothly, giving each character their own moment.

And there was no bigger character moment for Chris Evans than when Cap finally got his long-awaited dance with long-time love, Peggy. For me though, it was hearing Evans finally yell, “Avengers, assemble.”

Avengers: Endgame is a film with stunts and heart. It allowed Robert Downey, Jr and Chris Evans exit the franchise with grace and gravitas.

1. 1917

Directed by Sam Mendes|Written by Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns

1917 is a masterpiece and the best war film since Saving Private Ryan. Just wanted to get that out of the way. Mendes’ film is actually more than a war film, it’s about commitment and friendship.

Two World War I lance corporals (George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman)  are ordered to travel on foot across enemy territory to deliver an important message that could potentially save 1,600 of their fellow comrades — including one’s own brother.

Because of the one-take cinematography by Roger Deakins (Skyfall, Blade Runner 2049) we are drawn into their journey from the opening scene. We are right there as the soldiers’ life goes from somewhat serene and descends into the hellish brutality of the war.

The filmmaking does call attention to itself, but in a masterpiece kind of way. 1917 is a piece of astonishing filmmaking.

There were a slew of other films I enjoyed by myself and with others: Good Boys, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Harriet, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Shazam!, How to Train Your Dragon 3, Frozen II, Toy Story 4, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Richard Jewell, The Two Popes, Les Miserablés, Queen & Slim, Just Mercy, Bombshell, Little Women, The Report, IT: Chapter 2, Joker, Motherless Brooklyn, The Farewell, Knives Out, The Lighthouse

Could we get into the films that were, ahem, not so good (Looking at you Cats, Glass and Charlie’s Angels)? Sure we could, but why waste energy on them. No one sets out to make a bad film (Cats) and we don’t need to take up more of your time with our Worst Films List. You can find them on any troll’s site.

The Geek is a working screenwriter, director and adjust Screenwriting instructor at UCLA.

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