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.

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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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Us Review: Jordan Peele’s Sophomore Boasts a Confident Eye Behind the Genre

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For his sophomore feature film as a director, Jordan Peele returns to the realm of horror but also takes on a whole new approach with Us. But there’s also a great deal to admire about how much ambition Jordan Peele is showing in regards to where he wants to take his career, going from the funny guy on MADtv and Key & Peele to an Oscar-winning creator of horror films starting with Get Out. That’s about everything I feel can really be said about the fact that Peele is willing to take on a new challenge with Us, because there’s an incredible sense of confidence that one can pick up on from looking at what he presents for your eyes to see. But something else that I’m also finding myself loving about this new turn for Jordan Peele is the notion that this time around he seems to be unveiling even more potential for what he could bring to the horror genre. Like all the very best, he finds a way to get under your skin, but Peele’s vision is so distinctly made out of a love for the genre to that point even the most familiar concepts could be made into something more abstract.

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12 Years a Slave, a Harrowing Confrontation of America’s Past Mistakes and One of Humanity’s Greatest Tragedies: Review

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Steve McQueen’s third feature film sees the British filmmaker returning back to the roots of adapting history to the screen, but much like Hunger, he only ever remains so uneasy yet his perspective can only make clearer what it really felt like to suffer at the hands of slavery in America. It’s one thing to note the very willingness that Steve McQueen has when it comes to bringing these stories to the big screen for as difficult as they may end up being, but as uncompromising his approach may be, his choice not to hold back already feels eye-opening. From watching 12 Years a Slave you’re made to see the very hell that Solomon Northup had been made to live through in a world that only tried to establish him as being of a lesser kind; but McQueen leaves you wondering the very extent to which we truly have moved further as a species. It’s one among many things that solidifies why Steve McQueen is among the best working filmmakers, but even at showing the most difficult atrocities that one can be made to endure there’s an incredible sense of empathy that his approach evokes that makes 12 Years a Slave a powerful experience.

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Review

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Rian Johnson’s latest film, a Star Wars film for the matter – isn’t the sort that one would expect him to pull off, but even for those who have stuck so closely with the Star Wars franchise, they didn’t get the same story that they would have wanted. If The Force Awakens only was the welcoming return for the franchise to the big screen after George Lucas’s prequel trilogy has come to an end, through the reintroduction of nostalgia – then what Rian Johnson has set his audience in store for is more possibility, all from the fact that he of all people had went behind what we would want to recognize on the surface as a Star Wars film. But nevertheless if this film were proof of anything, it would be that Star Wars finds its way of speaking to many generations over the years.

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Black Panther – Review

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The king of Wakanda himself finally takes the screen as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe after having appeared briefly in Captain America: Civil War. Directed by Ryan Coogler and starring Chadwick Boseman as the titular king, the most pleasing thing to report about Black Panther is that they had indeed given royalty the proper cinematic welcome for audiences of all sorts. It feels relieving to see a Marvel Cinematic Universe that I can comfortably say that I liked, without any “buts” to get in the way – for after this and Taika Waititi’s entry with Thor: Ragnarok, it would be easier to hope for more superhero films that give their own directors enough room to express themselves properly without much interference getting in the way.

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The Jungle Book (2016) – Review

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While not lifeless, there’s not enough presented by The Jungle Book for me to get on board with. I like the fact that it knows whom it’s geared towards, but what I hate about its acknowledgement is how in turn something more restricted comes about. After Cinderella (which I’m indifferent to) and Alice in Wonderland (which I despise), Disney comes about with another live action remake of one of their classics, and this time, they tackle The Jungle Book. I was hoping for more out of this adaptation because I was particularly indifferent to the original Cinderella film and I was wondering what Jon Favreau could have done with his own spin on a different Disney film, and one which I had more of an attachment to at that. It was certainly something that looked very nice as it should, but trying to find the reasons for myself to get invested was where the real challenge came in. Continue reading →