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.

‘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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2018: Another Year of Cinema Come and Gone

This year was a real game changer for a person like myself. To kick things off, it was the first year in which I was able to attend TIFF as a press member rather than as any other audience member. It was a defining moment for myself, though I don’t want to brag a little too much about what happened there. It was just a good year for cinema in general. That’s all I can really say, and I want to bring more attention to the many films that I absolutely loved this year – and so many of them came around this year and so forth. We’re already nearing the end of a decade, and through the good and the bad, the cinema has always been able to provide nothing but the greatest pleasures through and through. Although as we look through the films that have come to define 2018 as a whole, there were many surprises that came along the way just as there were disappointments – all of which came in between the very best and the worst in cinema through the year. So without further ado, let us begin. Continue reading →

Beautiful Boy Hits Really Close to Home in its Grimness: TIFF Review

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In 2017, Timothée Chalamet stole our hearts only to split them into two with his performance in Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name for which he became the third youngest Academy Award nominee for Best Actor (behind Mickey Rooney and Jackie Cooper) – and now he’s here to split them again in Felix Van Groeningen’s Beautiful Boy. But like his role in Call Me by Your Name, he’s also never letting go of the audience’s ability to resonate with a character much like that of Elio Perlman now that he’s here to portray the young drug addict Nic Sheff in Van Groeningen’s English-language debut. Prior to seeing Beautiful Boy, I was only familiar with Van Groeningen’s work through The Broken Circle Breakdown, a film that I did not expect to like nearly as much as I did given how sappy I found it to be, but with Beautiful Boy he ventures into another territory certain to tug onto one’s own heartstrings. And for a first film in the English language, Beautiful Boy isn’t only an impressive entry, but its approach to such delicate subject matter also makes it one of the most harrowing viewing experiences of the year.

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The TIFF Diaries: Day 2 – Abruptly Changing the Schedule: Mouthpiece and Gloria Bell

It is my second day at the Toronto International Film Festival and I seem to have encountered a bit of a Sophie’s Choice more than anything, and in this instance I’d been left with a choice whether to go attend a press and industry screening for Cold War or just skip it to secure red carpet access for Beautiful Boy. But I feel afterwards that I ended up making the red carpet for Felix Van Groeningen’s film after having come straight from Oakville to catch a press screening of Mouthpiece today. I have to admit though, being at a red carpet may also have been one of the most anxiety-inducing experiences of my whole life by far, because knowing already that I have to meet up with numerous big names in the business, I kept worrying about what would happen if I ended up making a fool out of myself.

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Miss Stevens Review: A Film So Simple and Earnest, It’s Likeable

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The best thing that a film like this can really carry itself on, for the rather short running time of a mere 86 minutes is the distinct feeling of being earnest. This film went under my own radar until I found it over on Netflix, and I decided that I may as well give it a shot to which I’m glad I did. Julia Hart’s debut film Miss Stevens leaves oneself waiting for what more she can put out within the future, because the gentleness of such a work is what leaves a positive feeling all throughout such a work, but at least it doesn’t keep itself limited to being just this. Sure, it doesn’t exactly move away from the American indie roots that it builds itself from, but I would be lying if I were to say that I didn’t find myself moved by this rather slight journey – and it turned out to be more than I would have asked for out of a film like this.

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General Thoughts: The 90th Academy Awards

One knows already how predictable the Academy Awards can become after the route of the Golden Globes and the SAG Awards among many more, but in the 90 years that we have seen them moving onward, what they had managed to turn forth was not only one of the strongest lineups in a while but also one of the most pleasantly surprising, knowing where their own habits lie. If there was anything else to be said about what the Academy Awards have in store for us this year, then it only makes this year’s ceremony – unlike the past few at least, worth looking forward to.

Bold indicates my vote for said category.
Underline indicates who I think will win.

To read more about the picks this year in the major categories, click “read more.” Continue reading →

Call Me by Your Name – Review

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How do you describe that feeling of being in love for the first time? When we’re young, we discover that emotion rushes through us and it’s something that roots itself inside of our head for as long as we keep it there. And in the film’s closing lines, Call Me by Your Name sums up how we like to keep that experience in our hearts, “I remember everything.” But i also think it’s worth noting that Call Me by Your Name isn’t exactly a love story in the traditional sense – it’s about what happens as that feeling of experiencing love strikes you for the first time. So how exactly does Luca Guadagnino manage to make a film that resonates with the experience? The best thing to feel as you watch Call Me by Your Name comes forth when you recognize it coming back to you like a memory.

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2017: A Year in Review

Another year is complete, but not without having talked about the wonderful experiences we’ve had at the cinemas. Together with the not-so-wonderful films. But alas, this has been an extraordinary year for films for the highlights still managed to stick their landing inside of our minds – and the inevitable “what about such and such?” will come but I will remind you that it would have been outright impossible for me to have been able to catch virtually every movie that had come out the previous year to make sure I wouldn’t forget other highlights that may not have made it.
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Lady Bird – Review

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NOTE: This is a review I wrote from the Toronto International Film Festival, which I  had delayed posting here.

It’s probably just my own love of Greta Gerwig that’s taking me in, but I never expected Lady Bird to be a captivating experience in the manner in which it was. The whole night after watching Lady Bird, to say the least, I was in shock because I never expected something to play out to become nearly as resonant as it was – it wasn’t just simply funny anymore. But to see that Greta Gerwig managed to touch me in such a manner right on what was her directorial debut effort, I think the safest thing for me to say is that I’m already going to love what her output will present within the future. I was left thinking, perhaps this was something I needed my whole life – and for Greta Gerwig, I couldn’t possibly be more thankful.

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