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.

‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ TIFF Review: Recapturing Fred Rogers’ Inspiring Legacy for a Modern Audience

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I’m not one to speak about Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood because it was not a show that I watched growing up, yet I always felt that there was something special to be seen in the impact that he’s left behind on generations of viewers both while the show has been ongoing and even after its end in 2001. But to look at how far does the impact of Fred Rogers stretch, it’s already been stated in Morgan Neville’s documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, which turned out to be one among a few reasons I was somewhat skeptical for what Marielle Heller would bring to the table here. Yet as I sat there in the movie theater, I was only wondering how I’ve managed to go all these years with Fred Rogers missing from my life.

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‘Toy Story 4’ Review: A Worthy Conclusion to Pixar’s Long-Running Saga

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When Toy Story 4 was announced, many fans have also been speculating on what worth would a fourth film have following the conclusion of Toy Story 3 with Andy’s time now having come to an end. But of course with the stakes having been raised incredibly high up by Toy Story 3, the initial proposal of Toy Story 4 as a romantic comedy with Woody and Bo Peep would already have been met with negative feedback, even after her absence in Toy Story 3. But nevertheless, the film had came around anyway and maybe there’s so much more that we can imagine to what it feels like to be a toy than simply being passed around from Andy to Bonnie at the very end of Toy Story 3? With all of this being set in mind, there’s no way that Toy Story 4 should work as well as it does but it still finds itself a worthy entry into Pixar’s long-running saga, and as a way for them to bookend the decade, just as they started it off with Toy Story 3, it feels more than just satisfying enough. I’m still left wondering what more could an entry like this have done in the grand scheme of things but if this is how the Toy Story series finally must come to its own conclusion, I’m more than fine with it.

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‘Toy Story 3’ Review: Passing the Enduring Legacy from One Generation to the Next

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Eleven years and eight films later, Pixar brought the Toy Story series back for another spin – but as the fans of the previous films have already grown, the Toy Story series encounters its own sense of growth in the same way. But like the toys themselves in this belated third entry, the franchise has already endured having been forgotten in so long despite having been treasured by longtime fans of Pixar. Now with the challenge of having to reintroduce the familiar Toy Story characters to a new generation of audiences, but also keep the best traits around for those who have stuck so closely with two of Pixar’s very first leaps to the screen. With Lee Unkrich (who previously co-directed Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., and Finding Nemo) now taking over the position of directing from John Lasseter, it’s easy enough to say that a new enough voice has not only managed to reaffirm that the Toy Story films have never lost that touch that made them resonate with audiences back when they came out, but also a sign for what was to come of letting the series grow in our hearts for so long too.

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‘Toy Story 2’ Review: One of the Greatest Animated Sequels Ever Made

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The first Toy Story film introduced us to a new perception of a world that we already saw as familiar, but with that ground having been gotten out of the way a return to the same characters four years later in Toy Story 2 introduces yet another philosophy to come forward in regards to what one’s purpose truly is to make others feel happy. But even as the animation itself has improved thanks to years of practice clearly having given the film a more refined look, Toy Story 2 also shows itself to be a sequel with more ambition to explore the meaning of what hanging onto the memories of defining the best moments of one’s childhood can also feel like. And so when talking about the scope of the ambition present in Toy Story 2, there comes a greater emphasis on what soon becomes one of Pixar’s best qualities – for a far more emotionally challenging journey comes around, but still retaining everything that made its predecessor every bit as wonderful. With Pixar’s continued string of success in mind, not only does Toy Story 2 still find itself easily ranking as one of their best films but perhaps one of the greatest animated sequels of all time, let alone one of the best sequels in general ever made.

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‘Toy Story’ Review: The Enduring Freshness of the First Ever Fully Computer-Animated Feature

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For many moviegoers who were born around the 90’s or grew up into the 2000’s, the title “Toy Story” evokes a feeling of nostalgia one way or the other. Of course, for myself, Toy Story holds a special place in my heart not only for being my earliest memory of ever watching a movie but also being one among the first films that I distinctly remember branding “my favourite.” And although the title has been taken away by numerous films ever since as I continued developing my own taste in cinema, Toy Story still remains a favourite for even if the animation style may appear rather aged when put aside many future computer-animated features let alone the rest of Pixar Animation Studios’s oeuvre, it still feels every bit as fresh as it did the first day I remember having watched it. Noting its innovations for the time period as it was the very first feature film entirely animated through the use of computer-generated imagery, there are many more reasons as to why Toy Story still remains a huge staple for pop culture in the many years that have passed since its release and for every bit as enduring as its legacy is, it still remains Pixar’s finest achievement in my eyes.

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The Post – Review

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Steven Spielberg’s movies are either a fun time or a boring lecture. Those who have stuck around with his work for so long would already be able to recognize his trademarks regardless of the sort of films he makes whether it be his usual sentimentality or father-child issues – because they’ve pervaded the many sorts of films he makes whether they be fun for the masses or a historical drama. Quite frankly, I’ve never exactly been the hugest fan of many of Spielberg’s historical dramas (although Schindler’s List may be an exception I still have my own reservations about its handling of the subject matter) so The Post was not going to be a high priority for me. But after having been pleasantly surprised with Bridge of Spies, I figured it was worth giving a chance – and I’m glad I gave one to The Post.

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Philadelphia – Review

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On some count it’s easy for me to say that Philadelphia isn’t really Jonathan Demme at the very best of his own ability because it feels like such a drastic change of pace to follow up from the comedies he was known for and the Oscar-winning The Silence of the Lambs. But in the late filmmaker’s memory, I have to admit that there’s another level where I’ve always found myself respecting Philadelphia by a good lot. Being one of the first mainstream Hollywood films to bring attention to AIDS and homophobia and its impact on society, considering how far we’ve come today it’s still interesting to look at how the world’s perspective has changed at least two decades later. Even if this is a lesser entry in the filmography of a director like Jonathan Demme, there’s still a special sort of recognition I believe Philadephia deserves for what it had done back on the day of its release.

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The Circle (2017) – Review

James Ponsoldt’s directorial credit should already have been enough for me to think that there was something decent inside of The Circle, but what also caught me was the fact it came from a novel by, and was co-written by Dave Eggers. This name already caught me eye more than anything else about The Circle because Eggers also was a co-writer of Spike Jonze’s underrated but wonderful Where the Wild Things Are. Now that The Circle has come out I’m just wondering how everything had gone so terribly wrong for both Ponsoldt and Eggers because both filmmakers have created fairly thoughtful material prior to this and now comes the worst Black Mirror episode disguised as a feature film. Then again, at least Black Mirror even at their very worst had something to say and yet this one doesn’t even know in the slightest what it wishes to do and at its worst, has to preach everything in your face to the point it becomes so irritating.

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Inferno (2016) – Review

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We’ve gotten this far ahead inside of a world where Robert Langdon is thought to be potential for an iconic film character and yet his previous two films are either laughably ridiculous with the turns of their mysteries or horrendously boring at their worst. Inferno, while not nearly as tedious the experience that The Da Vinci Code was, just goes down the way Angels & Demons had suffered in the sense that they twist far too much either it can get too ridiculous for their own good, stinting itself from retaining one’s interest. We’re three films into this series already and they forgot what is the key element to Robert Langdon that should have been present with The Da Vinci Code.

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