2019: The End of the Decade’s Year in Review

First, I think I ought to apologize for how long-delayed this year in review would have been, but I had become incredibly busy over the past few months – to that point I was unable to write many film reviews as of late. Yet I still managed to find enough time to myself to catch films over the year as it was coming to its end in time for awards season, though it also left me with more than enough time to think back upon how great a decade this has been for film in general.

While it still feels sad to have to come think about one journey being over, it only feels most fitting we come back to the thought that we must always make way for tomorrow – the past has run its course, and thus we can dwell upon everything great about such in order to move forward. But as much as the 2010’s may have also been taken over by franchise films eating away the public interest every chance it has, it also made searching for the hidden gems all the more fun too. Yet as the best films of 2019 had already shown us, great cinema is still alive and well, and what matters most is how much we can continually share those experiences with others.

As far as this decade’s years of great films have gone by, many of 2019’s highs have struck a chord with me that I can’t quite put my finger on – but to put it lightly it was also the sort where I knew these films were going to be among films that define the decade too. It feels great to have been able to revel in what these films stood for within their moments, so without further ado, these are my favourite films of 2019.

Honourable Mentions

Booksmart

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Knives Out

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A Hidden Life

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High Life

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A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Tom Hanks (Finalized)

And now comes the countdown.

10. An Elephant Sitting Still

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image via KimStim

What saddens me is the thought that this is to remain the only feature-length directorial effort of Hu Bo, a filmmaker who tragically had taken his own life prior to the film’s premiere at TIFF in 2018. Yet the film that Hu Bo had left behind in his wake is a four-hour long journey all about searching for hope. An Elephant Sitting Still may prove difficult, whether we speak regarding its bleakness or the context behind its making and the context behind the life of filmmaker who brought it to the screen, but it will prove a rewarding experience.

9. The Lighthouse

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image via A24

Robert Eggers’s follow-up to The Witch is still every bit as beguiling as one can expect, but that’s also what reaffirms how terrifying it is. It’s only fair to say that The Lighthouse is the sort of nightmare that only a filmmaker like Robert Eggers could make, but there’s a certain audacity you can feel in his vision for the horror genre that feels like only he could have pulled off. Boasting great performances from Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, The Lighthouse is more than just terrifying, it’s also funny every now and then but also just gorgeous from start to finish.

8. Little Women

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image via Sony

Greta Gerwig already made her mark as one of the most exciting directors to look out for after having established her name through collaborations with Noah Baumbach, and it only remains further solidified by Little Women. Being another coming-of-age tale from her eyes, Little Women does far more than just bring back to the screen another story that has been adapted many times over the years: it still reaffirms the story’s own impact by sharing how it captures generation after generation, which I think becomes the film’s greatest asset.

7. Uncut Gems

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image via A24

The Safdie brothers always know how to rack up anxiety to the max but in Uncut Gems, what comes forth is everything you’d have wanted from the makers behind Good Time and much more. Boasting a career-best performance from Adam Sandler, who is at some of the best he has ever been since Punch-Drunk Love and The Meyerowitz Stories, seeing the sort of work he manages to pull off in Uncut Gems does more than prove he is a wonderful dramatic actor when working outside of his familiar circle. You’ll feel your heart racing as you watch Uncut Gems, but the ride will absolutely be worth it.

6. The Irishman

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image via Netflix

It’s hard to say no to a new Martin Scorsese film, because he may arguably be the greatest American filmmaker working today – but he always finds a new way to approach the familiar subject matter of his work. In The Irishman, he returns once again to making gangster films to tell the story of how Frank Sheeran climbed his way up the mafia and even got himself involved with the case of Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance, but in typical Martin Scorsese fashion, there’s never a dull moment in this three-and-a-half-hour long odyssey. Yet it also shows Scorsese within a more introspective mode, which can be felt from having stuck around Frank’s life from his youth all the way to his old age. By the time you’re finished, you’ll feel like you lived his life, asking questions about how much of it was worth it.

5. Honey Boy

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image via Amazon Studios

Shia LaBeouf has already made a name for himself as one of the most fascinating figures working in the industry today but seeing how he enters a more sensitive side within Honey Boy only gives one all the more reason to love him. The narrative directorial debut of Alma Har’el, this semi-autobiographical film all about Shia LaBeouf’s own life experiences, as penned by him, and starring him as his own troubled father, Honey Boy is more than a tribute to the people whom he loved most, it’s a testament to what goes on in the life of a child star – and how those experiences have come to define the sort of person that he has become. I’m also looking forward to what Alma Har’el has got in store for the future, because this movie hasn’t left my head very easily.

4. The Farewell

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image via A24

For an Asian audience member, The Farewell will already strike chords for some – but there was something else that I had felt from watching it. Part of me saw my own life experiences feeling exactly like it had been for Awkwafina as shown in Lulu Wang’s film. It can be hard to say no to family matters, but what also makes The Farewell ring so perfectly comes out from how much it’s clear that Lulu Wang had written this as her own family’s love letter. Showcasing Awkwafina at some of her very best, The Farewell may be a slow burn but in that awkwardness it makes you feel from seeing family members you may have been estranged with for so long, it becomes a beautiful emotional rollercoaster.

3. Marriage Story

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image via Netflix

The ironically titled Marriage Story shows Noah Baumbach as he returns to familiar territory after The Squid and the Whale but tells of the adults’ perspective on the situation. But for Noah Baumbach it’s clear that this is a subject that nonetheless still hits him very hard, which is what makes it so easy to feel Marriage Story making its impact right from the film’s start, all the way until its end. To call Marriage Story the best that Noah Baumbach has ever been would already be easy enough, but when you’re also taking into account the many personal details sprinkled in, the title already feels fitting. It is less a film about the divorce and a film all about why they married to begin with, which best captures its impact.

2. Portrait of a Lady on Fire

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image via NEON

Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire won the Queer Palm and the Best Screenplay Award at the Cannes Film Festival, but what makes this lesbian love story so beautiful can already be felt in its testament to great art. Sciamma’s film is one that is all about looks: how they define the artist’s relationship with muse, but also how both those feelings define the art we make. Boasting some beautiful production design as well as amazing performances from Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a stunner.

1. Parasite

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image via NEON

People who have followed me closely would already know that there was no other movie that would take this spot. Aside from being more rewarding with multiple viewings, Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite is a film that approaches a subject that seems familiar to us, in the most outlandish yet most entertaining way possible, although not without its willingness to hit back with the harsher realities surrounding the circumstances we see onscreen. I feel like there’s already so much in my prior review that I haven’t been able to cover because ever since I had seen the film then, I could already feel as if it were only set to become even more rewarding as I kept coming back to revisit Parasite more over time. Equal parts funny, equal parts gripping, Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite is more than just the best film of 2019, it’s wholly thoughtful and encourages its viewers to look back at the class landscape that they live within.

The Best Performances of 2019

Actor, Leading Role:

  1. Adam Sandler, Uncut Gems
  2. Song Kang-ho, Parasite
  3. Adam Driver, Marriage Story
  4. Robert De Niro, The Irishman
  5. Robert Pattinson, The Lighthouse
  6. Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
  7. Noah Jupe, Honey Boy
  8. Daniel Craig, Knives Out
  9. August Diehl, A Hidden Life
  10. Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory

Actress, Leading Role:

  1. Saoirse Ronan, Little Women
  2. Cho Yeo-jeong, Parasite
  3. Noèmie Merlant, Portrait of a Lady on Fire
  4. Awkwafina, The Farewell
  5. Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story
  6. Lupita Nyong’o, Us
  7. Zhao Tao, Ash is Purest White
  8. Ana de Armas, Knives Out
  9. Kaitlyn Dever, Booksmart
  10. Julianne Moore, Gloria Bell

Actor, Supporting Role:

  1. Joe Pesci, The Irishman
  2. Choi Woo-shik, Parasite
  3. Al Pacino, The Irishman
  4. Lee Sun-kyun, Parasite
  5. Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
  6. Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
  7. Timothée Chalamet, Little Women
  8. Shia LaBeouf, Honey Boy
  9. LaKeith Stanfield, Uncut Gems
  10. Asier Exteandia, Pain and Glory

Actress, Supporting Role:

  1. Park So-dam, Parasite
  2. Laura Dern, Marriage Story
  3. Florence Pugh, Little Women
  4. Adéle Haenel, Portrait of a Lady on Fire
  5. Chang Hyae-jin, Parasite
  6. Zhao Shuzhen, The Farewell
  7. Julia Fox, Uncut Gems
  8. Jennifer Lopez, Hustlers
  9. Penelope Cruz, Pain and Glory
  10. Jamie Lee Curtis, Knives Out

The Worst Films of 2019

  1. Loqueesha
  2. Katie Says Goodbye
  3. The Lion King
  4. Hellboy
  5. The Dirt
  6. The Haunting of Sharon Tate
  7. Cats
  8. Polar
  9. Girl
  10. It: Chapter Two

And so, this concludes what’s already been a wonderful decade of truly astonishing films – stick around, we’ve also got more to come as I talk about the best films of the decade.

Ten Reasons Why ‘Parasite’ Deserves to Win Best Picture at the Oscars

Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite is an important first for South Korean cinema history, being their first film to win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, but after having submitted films to compete for the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film (then known as the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film), Parasite has not only become the first South Korean film to receive a nomination following the shortlisting of Lee Chang-dong’s Burning at the 91st Academy Awards in said category, but it has also received nominations for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Picture – becoming the first film produced by an East Asian country to receive such recognition since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

This being one of the most stacked years in recent memory at the Academy Awards, with the most nominated film being a comic book film that still sparks controversy (Joker), fellow nominees also include a WWI epic emulating the look of a single continuous long take (1917), Martin Scorsese’s biggest film since Casino (The Irishman), and a revisionist love letter dedicated to 1960’s Hollywood (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood). Yet Bong Joon-ho’s Cannes winner still stands atop everything else – at least in my eyes. Seeing Parasite being up for Best Picture felt exciting, because of the doors it opened from its nomination. And of course, I just can’t think of another film more deserving of the honours, in such a fantastic year for film. So without further ado, here are my ten reasons Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite should win Best Picture.

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‘1917’ Review: A Faceless, if Harrowing War Experience

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This WWI film directed by Sam Mendes is a visceral theatrical experience, one that feels ready to place you on the battlefield, whether you are ready or not. It’s also one that I was feeling skeptical about because it has also been way too long since I was last wowed by a mainstream war film from recent memory, but the idea that Sam Mendes were to make one to look as if it were in one continuous long take became the most intriguing selling point for me. And for every bit as it is the film’s main selling point, 1917 doesn’t seem to have all that much to offer beyond that. Which isn’t to say that the film is bad, but where it peaks in the technical department it seems to be lacking elsewhere.

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‘Little Women’ Review: Greta Gerwig’s Adaptation of a Classic Tale Reaffirms Its Impact

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Greta Gerwig’s follow-up to Lady Bird is not the same sort of coming-of-age film that she brought to the screen years two prior, but another adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic story. Although it may be a story that has been adapted numerous times to the screens, whether they be for television or for the cinema, it carries a timeless quality to it that only makes it feel fresh no matter how many times it may be told. It’s a film that feels almost like you’re being wrapped comfortably within a blanket, but the more it continues flashing back and forth it also shows that there’s always a newer way to bring timeless stories of the sort to modern audiences, and for what’s only Gerwig’s second feature as a writer-director, it feels as if she’s on her way to becoming a talent for a generation.

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‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ Review: A Not-So-Grand Finale For the Skywalker Saga

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It’s finally over, the Skywalker saga that began in 1977 with George Lucas’s Star Wars (or otherwise known as A New Hope), has finally ended with J. J. Abrams returning behind the camera to bring forth The Rise of Skywalker. One would already find themselves wondering where could the saga have gone following Rian Johnson’s radical approach to the series with The Last Jedi, which had divided many fans for betraying their image of the characters or the approach after having been reintroduced to them in The Force Awakens. In an attempt to hand the series back to those fans following the reception of The Last Jedi, The Rise of Skywalker concludes this long saga on a sour note.

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‘The Platform’ Review: A Satire Most Likely to Ruin Your Meal

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Perhaps the best word of advice prior to watching The Platform would be to watch it without having eaten a huge meal before viewing it, because this isn’t so much a delicious film to leave sitting in your mind after the images that it shows you. This isn’t a film for those with a weak stomach but in how Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia would show you even the most disgusting aspects of humanity on the spot, The Platform already feels like a daring experiment too. In fact I have not quite seen a satire much like this, one that feels so unafraid to delve into the worst of humanity but also one that blends that perfectly with entertainment value in order to create a bizarrely disgusting delicacy.

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‘Antigone’ Review: Sophie Deraspe Adapts Ancient Greek Tragedy to Timely Effect

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A modernized adaptation of the ancient Greek play by Sophocles, which has been adapted into operas, television, and the cinema, Sophie Deraspe’s Antigone tells the story within modern day Montreal, now as a tale of an immigrant family. I’m always impressed to see how timeless stories of the sort can be reinterpreted for new generations, but seeing what Sophie Deraspe does with Antigone is stunning. Rather than simply going for a word-for-word approach with an updated setting, her take on Antigone isn’t only a nice reinvention for the modern age. It’s an adaptation that reaffirms the timeless quality of its source material by finding a path that’d assure its long resonance.

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‘Queen & Slim’ Review: A Gripping, Yet Frustratingly Safe Tale of Survival

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There’s something scary about the mere thought that what you’re witnessing in Queen & Slim could be very well happening today. Yet there’s a greater resonance that comes forth from how the stories of many black lives across the United States have been immortalized – most often not for their achievements, but as symbols against racism after their lives have unjustly been cut short. In this feature debut from music video director Melina Matsoukas, Queen & Slim tells a story of a modern day Bonnie & Clyde – lovers who are on the run from the law, after having been thrusted into a life or death situation. What soon follows is a harrowing, if occasionally frustrating tale of life or death, with a dash of social relevance within today’s political climate.

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‘Crazy World’ TIFF Review: A New Breed of Supa Action

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Joining me for this review is a fellow contributor who also attended the Toronto International Film Festival with me, Samuel Caceres.

There has never been a better time to be a Wakaliwood supa fan than the closing night at TIFF 2019. One would already wonder how much more insane could the no-budget studio from Uganda possibly take their passions for making action films after the sensation that is Who Killed Captain Alex? and Crazy World doesn’t let down upon expectations at all. 

[No, it hasn’t. As a matter of fact, this film alone has transcended from the medium when TIFF introduced the one and only VJ Emmie to perform live as the audience watched the Midnight Madness screening. It’s a once in a lifetime experience that no other audience can experience again.]

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‘The Vast of Night’ TIFF Review: Andrew Patterson’s Directorial Debut Transports You to a Greater Mystery

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The Vast of Night already carries something ominous along the way based on the title alone, but if anything else best sums up what makes this film a perfect Rod Serling tribute, all the evidence you need is present in there alone. There’s nothing more vast about the atmosphere that makes up the nighttime, because for some you can already say that it’s a beautiful thought – and yet for others it also makes for great nightmare fuel. Andrew Patterson’s directorial debut is one that mixes all of those elements in order to create what is also the perfect Twilight Zone tribute film, and it also leaves a lingering effect on the viewers.

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