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.

‘Marriage Story’ TIFF Review: Noah Baumbach at His Most Devastating, Complex, and Thoughtful

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Divorce is not an unfamiliar subject writer-director Noah Baumbach, as shown through his exploration of the psychological effect of joint custody on children in The Squid and the Whale. In Marriage Story, what Baumbach shows you is a different perspective of the divorce, rather one that takes the perspective of the adults in the situation as they are about to part their own ways. As one can imagine, it never would feel easy in any sense of the word and Noah Baumbach cuts really deep into where you really feel it hurts. These are people who know they can’t stick together any longer, but that uncertainty regarding how they feel about one another still rings so strongly. If there were anything else that best makes the film’s title fit so perfectly, it’s best described by what Baumbach shows about what we realize as something that seemed so meaningful finally must come to its own end.

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‘Jojo Rabbit’ TIFF Review: Taika Waititi’s Anti-Hate Satire is Blunt, But Effective

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Taika Waititi’s anti-hate satire, as advertised extensively, is a different sort of coming-of-age film but as one would know from the sense of humour that Waititi’s career has been built upon, there’s also a whole lot to be admired about the risks that Waititi could already find himself facing when tackling a subject of this sort. There are a whole load of laughs to be had with watching Jojo Rabbit, like all the best of Taika Waititi’s past films but this is where he finds himself taking on a subject of yet another sort of scope. This is a film that’s clearly been made through the eyes of someone whose own people had been so visibly damaged in the past, but given the sort of risks that there’s another point where he clearly wants to broaden the reach of the film’s message by trying to reach out to a younger audience. To a certain extent, it works perfectly – because there’s not a single moment in Jojo Rabbit where I didn’t find myself laughing my heart out. For a movie about the Hitler Youth, it’s very funny, charming, and even sweet too, a nice crowdpleaser for what it’s worth.

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“Avengers: Endgame” Review: Achieving a Sense of Finality Within the Marvel Cinematic Universe

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**SPOILER WARNING: This review does not spoil Endgame, but spoilers for Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp, and Captain Marvel are also brought up. If you have not seen the aforementioned films, read this review at your own risk.**

Although I’ve never loved any of the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe I’ve always admired the impact that they left behind on modern culture and with the latest Avengers film there’s already a sense of finality to the first phase as these films continue coming out over the years. But the biggest challenge that Infinity War had already faced was how it could still manage to mix the stories of nearly twenty films to come together for one big face-off, and with two more films having followed since, Endgame already has us awaiting something even grander now that the second Ant-Man film and Captain Marvel have already gotten out of the way. At a running time of a little bit over three hours, Marvel already promises something of such a grand scale and to say the least, they’ve accomplished a task that almost seemed near impossible. For Endgame isn’t only the best of the four Avengers films but it’s also a film that utilizes the legacy that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has accomplished in a little over ten years in order to give viewers who have followed suit for the longest time more than what would already make a memorable closer. It’s a film that was made out of love for everything that made the Marvel Cinematic Universe so grand, and the results may not be perfect but also provide a satisfying climax.

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Finding a Sense of Comfort and Acceptance in Spike Jonze’s Her – A Review

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I have so many emotions running through my head right now, because this was perhaps what I needed most after having finished an entire year of college. It just felt so perfect for the moment because as soon as I finished, I felt a rush right through my head that was not like anything else that I had felt. After having gotten the chance to connect with so many other like-minded individuals that aren’t so far away, this final day almost feels like a blow – all of that has been taken away from me right on the spot. It feels like I have moved back into becoming the sort of person that I was always fearing I would be through my high school years once again, just a lonely, reclusive, sheltered person who had found the greatest joys one could ever feel through watching the movies for they have been my gateway to the world. Watching Her as I was about to enter this very moment almost felt like a bad idea because of what I still feel that I am not prepared for within my future. But if there were anything else that I would have wanted to say, I don’t know if I can be thankful enough that whenever I watch this movie, I always find myself in a state of comfort – one that I don’t know if I ever want to end.

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Avengers: Infinity War – Review

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There are many stories being told within Avengers: Infinity War and I think that happens to be the best way for something of this sort to be shown to the screens because it gives every character what’s needed in order to create an emotional resonance with its viewers. In the past ten years, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been telling individual story after another but have always been dependent on one another in order to form something of a larger scope and as all stories come together to form one singular Avengers story. The ambition is clear enough from how all of these characters established by their own entries are coming together once and for all, so the question to be asked is how does the film live up to the scope it promises? It’s a step up from both the last Avengers film and the Russo brothers’ last Marvel film, but I feel hesitant to go beyond saying it pays off completely after the Marvel Cinematic Universe has only recently released their two most interesting films since the first Guardians of the Galaxy.

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Isle of Dogs – Review

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Wes Anderson’s second animated feature film Isle of Dogs (which can be said out loud as “I love dogs”) is delightful in every sense of the word. For as easy as it is to admire the consistency of a filmmaker like Wes Anderson whether it be via his trademark visual style or his distinctively quirky sense of humour, his style will understandably not be for everyone’s tastes. Speaking only for myself, I’ve been a rather dedicated apologist for Wes Anderson’s work for I’ve yet to find myself actively disliking a film under his own name – because the way Wes Anderson allows his own trademarks to adapt so well under different forms of storytelling only goes to show more proof as to why he is truly among the most unique filmmakers of his own generation, for he is truly in a league of his own.

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Ghost in the Shell (2017) – Review

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The idea of an American Ghost in the Shell adaptation was set to receive backlash from fans of the source material but I was cautiously optimistic as I was entering Rupert Sanders’s new take on Masamune Shirow’s manga on the count that I love Mamoru Oshii’s original film. Amidst all the backlash it received from fans before it came out was a particular firing towards the casting of Scarlett Johansson which has even led to accusations of whitewashing and with that having been said, I didn’t want to let it ruin the optimism I was carrying on the idea of a new Ghost in the Shell film now told for American audiences but for the new ground it carries I can only say it was one of the last of my issues if I had many to name on the spot. Unfortunately among many of those qualms I had with Ghost in the Shell, one of the most glaring ones was that it had to be incredibly monotone.

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Lost in Translation – Review

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I think it goes without saying that Lost in Translation is easily Sofia Coppola’s best film as a director, but looking back upon why it gets the reputation as such is easy: for at only two films it still remains her most fully realized work to date. That’s not to say personal bias from great connection has also allowed itself to become a factor but there’s something about how Sofia Coppola presents this story that only calls upon great connection from my own end because the first memories I had of watching Lost in Translation are not fairly distant regarding where I’ve headed in life at this moment. I’ve started out a fairly lonely person without any sense of connection in the world and even though I’ve taken comfort in social media it brings back a specific melancholy that hit me when I watch Lost in Translation.

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Ghost World – Review

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I knew far too many teenage girls like Enid. They were always closeted about their own interests because what we saw on the outside was the fact that they were always so cold and bitter about their place in life. They come from the supposed “ghost world,” and to everyone else they’re just invisible. I read Daniel Clowes’s comic during my own early high school years and something about Enid’s personality struck me as something that rang a tad too familiar. My own high school years have oftentimes left me within a state of disconnect from everything else that was happening around me, because I was always seen as the introverted freak who took no interest in most of what other teens seemed to like. It’s a particularly disturbing feeling that Daniel Clowes and Terry Zwigoff found themselves capturing with such ease it’s uncanny.

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