And as the Credits Roll: My Top Ten Movies of the Year
It’s that time of year again. As the seasons begin to change and turn more subdued, the films released seem to mimic this pattern. Following those thrilling days of the summer that brought us enjoyable popcorn flicks like Spider-Man: Far from Home, Toy Story 4 and of course Avengers: Endgame, there is a noticeable lull. Moving into the winter months, the movies that come out are calmer, quieter, more intimate films that pull on our heartstrings and keep us warm as the snow falls outside. And another year fades to black, we find ourselves sitting around with friends, discussing what our favorite movies were this past year, which brings me to the point of this piece. Here are what I felt were the ten best films released over the course of 2019:
- The Irishman (Netflix): A story that spans five decades, this film takes us through the life of Frank Sheeran, a mobster from Philadelphia, and dives into his relationship with the mafia and influential union boss, Jimmy Hoffa. Beautifully shot by the legendary Martin Scorsese and populated with screen legends Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino acting together for the first time since they all got their starts almost 50 years ago was a sight to behold. While the film runs long at 3 hours and 30 minutes, not a moment feels unearned as Scorsese chooses to show us a different side of the mafia life, showing us a man who must live with the sins of his younger days. It is currently streaming on Netflix.
- Marriage Story (Netflix): This semi-autobiographical film directed by Noam Baumbach shows us a couple played by Scarlett Johansen and Adam Driver going through a brutal divorce. What they sought to keep civil soon devolves into a bitter and hostile affair that draws out the worst in both of them. The film’s strength is in the dialogue, performances and the way that it helps us relate to both characters, intentionally making it unclear as to who we are supposed to be supporting. Playing supporting roles are Ray Liotta (Goodfellas) and Laura Dern (Big Little Lies), whose turns as two high-energy attorneys provide both perspective and humor on just how intense the divorce process can be. It is currently streaming on Netflix.
- Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (Sony): Another big-name director making his return to the big screen this year, Quentin Tarantino cast A-list stars Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in his latest love song to the golden days of Hollywood, with DiCaprio portraying an actor struggling to find work and Pitt as his loyal stuntman and best friend. The film takes us through those “good old days” of Hollywood and features cameos from many real-life celebrities of the time, from Bruce Lee to an incredible supporting turn by Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate. It’s the kind of movie only someone with such a love could make and Tarantino shows he’s the one who could pull it off.
- 1917 (Universal): Not since 1998’s Saving Private Ryan has there been a war movie so captivating, visceral and gripping in showing the horrors of the battlefield. Taking place over the course of a single day and focusing on two soldiers who must give orders to stop an attack that will lead to devastation for the British troops, director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins shot the film to appear as one long take, allowing for the film to have a hypnotic hold over the audience. It never breaks for even a moment, making you feel like you are standing on the battlefield, uncertain of where danger might strike next. It’s an impressive feat that I think will change the way we see films like these, just like how Private Ryan’s famous D-Day scene changed the genre over 20 years ago.
- Ad Astra (Fox/Disney): With a plot that can be described as Apocalypse Now in space, we find ourselves observing a more quiet and contemplative side to Brad Pitt’s acting in a radical departure from his role in Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood. The film takes us through space focusing on the bleakness of being so far from humanity and simply allows us to join Pitt on his mission to discover whether his father is still alive. The film showcases brilliant shots of the space odyssey, but never loses sight of the message at its center: the timeless story of a son that wants nothing more than to reconnect with his father.
- Joker (Warner Brothers): If there was ever an actor that can transform into a role and truly make it his own, it would be Joaquin Phoenix. In his turn as Joker, he allows himself to contort his body into a masterclass of method acting that I dare say upstages Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning role in The Dark Knight. We, as the audience, see how one man who actively seeks out treatment for his neurological conditions can be completely kicked around in society to the point of breaking. While some were critical of the violence in the film, it opens up the door to having an actual conversation about mental illness and what we can do to help. At the same time, the film breaks the conventions of what a “comic book movie” can be, by elevating its source material and translating it into the real world, one devoid of caped crusaders and flashy armor, where the only heroes are the ones that we allow ourselves to be.
- Ford V. Ferrari (Fox/Disney): Leaning in to the conversation on celebrity acting pairings, James Mangold perfectly nailed it in this film, casting Matt Damon as Carroll Shelby, a car designer and engineer to play alongside Christian Bale, who portrays racing driver Ken Miles. The two play off of each other in a way that makes it a delight to watch, while also having the reader feel like they are there during the famous 1966 Le Mans race, where Ford sought to design a car that could beat the legendary Enzo Ferrari. The movie takes us back to those days when the engineers did not have the modern technology we have nowadays and had to rely on their wit and inventiveness to get the job done.
- Avengers Endgame (Disney): 22 movies, 11 years and the highest gross ever has shown that Marvel Studios really did accomplish the impossible. No one would have believed that they would be able to start off in 2008 with “Iron Man” and take the characters to new heights and development, actually providing a satisfying conclusion to what are now some of the most iconic superheroes in history. To say goodbye to these modern myths can only be said in the same words we heard in the film. We love you, 3000.
- Knives Out (Lionsgate): An ensemble murder mystery, “Knives Out” never takes itself too seriously, allowing itself to have fun and riff on the old Agatha Christie novels in what I found to be one of the most surprisingly enjoyable films of the year. As soon as the movie ended, I was eager to watch it all over again to catch everything I missed on the first viewing.
- A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Tristar): In a role that seems as tailor-made as his recognizable sweaters, Tom Hanks transforms into Mr. Fred Rogers and draws out the kindness and gentle warmth that he brought into the world in real life. Unfortunately, the rest of the film struggles to find its footing when Hanks is not on the screen. I still recommend it because of the excellent job Tom Hanks does, but much preferred last year’s documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, which is about Mr. Rogers and how he became such an icon.
Photo caption: Martin Scorsese’s latest film, The Irishman, has an all-star cast and is generating Oscar buzz already.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons