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Top Ten Films of 2019: The Good, the Bold, and the Unknown

10.) Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: Quentin Tarantino has always been a filmmaker ahead of his time. From Reservoir Dogs, to Kill Bill Volume 1 and 2, and even to The Hateful Eight, each of his films becomes more exponentially experimental in how they establish his love for the art of cinema and 20th century culture, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is no different. Sporting an uncommonly detailed production design of 1960’s Los Angeles and a story more discursive than Pulp Fiction, Hollywood is an exceptionally sweet love letter to the time in America when someone could accomplish a goal just by the grit of their teeth and calluses of their hands. That, as well as a showcase for why Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt still stand as two of the best actors working today.

9.) Midsommar: As someone who was not smitten by Hereditary, mostly due to a lack of subtlety and thematic weight, Midsommar felt more like Ari Aster’s truly insane and unfiltered vision for what anxiety, anger, and brutality could truly look like on screen, and I loved every second of it. There are–of course–inconsistencies and inessential details in such a wild vision, but the fact that only Aster is willing to go to such lengths should illuminate his boundless creativity. While nowhere near as terrifying as Hereditary, Midsommar’s brusque direction and Florence Pugh’s gripping performance make for a watching experience that will force the viewer to question their own morals by the end.

8.) Waves: Waves is best described as two shorter films combined into one longer film, both for the reason that there are always at least two sides to one story, and for the reason that there is almost never a story that just starts and ends. Written and directed by Trey Edward Shults, whose previous work I would identify as atmospheric above all else, Waves finally proves Shults’ ability to tell a compelling and complex story. This story is then only elevated by the excellent performances from all members of the cast, and the cinematography by Drew Daniels grabs the viewer and never lets go in emphasizing the physical and emotional journey of its characters. Like the saying on the poster, let the emotions of Waves simply wash over you.

7.) The Irishman: I will not beat the dead horse that everyone else already has for The Irishman: it is a classic Scorcese crime film. Thrilling, funny, heartfelt, and above all else, an introspective character study of organized crime in America. That is about all one needs to know, since it will apply to most audiences pretty universally with its layered and diligent story. The only real ground it breaks are the de-aging effects on all the actors, the impressively long yet consistent screenplay, and what is possibly Al Pacino’s best performance ever.

6.) The Last Black Man in San Francisco: What does a fable set in modern day look like? The closest right answer I could give someone is The Last Black Man in San Francisco. Never have I seen such a film with its heart and soul poured into almost every element, which is especially impressive considering the entire cast and crew were first-time filmmakers working with a script based on the lead actor’s own life. How much closer may one get to the phrase “art imitates life” than that? Moving on from my rhetorical questions, San Francisco explores how far one will go to feel connected with a larger meaning, and how that may just destroy the larger meaning, anyway.

5.) Joker: Finally, we have attained a comic book art film; not a decently thematic action film based on comic source material, but a purely dramatic character study that transcends the source material while staying true to the beyond iconic titular character. As of writing this, I have seen Joker four times, and I am still in awe of how much it accomplishes in terms of unreliable narration through editing and comprehensive symbolism with mindful costume and set design. When talking about the real draw of the film, one, of course, immediately divulges into all of the details and expressive constituents of Joaquin Phoenix’s performance (which connected with me to the point that I dressed as said Joker for Halloween). Anyone could see Phoenix almost desperately wants this Oscar after over twenty years of some of the most committed work put to film, and, by God, he deserves it for this above all else.

4.) Uncut Gems: Directors Josh and Benny Safdie have done what all inspired filmmakers should do: proceed past their source of inspiration into their own style and voice. Obviously inspired by crime films from Scorcese and the gritty character studies of Steven Soderbergh, the Safdie Brothers’ previous films, while great, often felt too chaotic in attempting to envelope so many ideas into each individual story. With Uncut Gems, they have finally struck gold with perfectly organized chaos. Every scene, especially thanks to the continual scheming excellently presented in Adam Sandler’s performance, builds with dread until the audience can take no more and wants to claw their eyes out just for the scene to end. Each of these scenes then builds into the next with perfectly timed set-ups and payoffs within the screenplay, all culminating in a climax that will keep viewers coming back every time just to make sure what they saw really occurred.

3.) Marriage Story: To finally see writer-director Noah Baumbach capture the authenticity of contemporary, domestic suffering that he has pursued since the start of his career, I could not be happier as a film geek. Yes, I used the term “film geek’ in this mostly professional list, but there is so much emotional weight in Marriage Story that almost no-one will keep their full composure by the end (for myself, tears could be seen for several minutes). Whenever Adam Driver or Scarlett Johansson are on screen, one can see the emotional turmoil and thought-processes struggling to stay below the facade of passivity. It represents the pain and suffering of love with lost desires and hopes and misplaced opportunities/motivations so well that it constantly hurts to observe these characters falling apart due to their own repressed rights and dominant selfishness. A film such as Joker is an intriguing tragedy; Marriage Story is an aching explanation of everything we fear but have to face as times change.

2.) The Souvenir: A cinematic masterpiece, The Souvenir admittedly stands as a vexatious experience to sit through, though that is for prodigious reasons. At its core, The Souvenir is about how subtle an abusive relationship may be. One could easily interpret the candidness of this film’s presentation as unfocused or lazy (I believe it to be immersive), but writer-director Joanna Hogg layers every scene and character interaction with double meanings that, upon multiple viewings, will make the mind games being played on the female protagonist more and more apparent. Playing said protagonist, Honor Swinton Byrne absolutely excels in presenting the anxiety and fear a dependent person may have on their partner, which then spreads out to other sections of life when not supported healthily. There is so much more to analyze within The Souvenir about love, memories, and the way storytelling affects the past, but, as the film shows, nothing good comes from unhealthy infatuation.

1.)Parasite: Some critics have stated that Parasite is a strong example of filmmaker Bong Joon-ho reaching the peak of his craft; from what I have seen, I find no way to disagree with this statement. Although Parasite’s elements do not add up to the most profound film of the year, they do add up to one of the most well-constructed films I have ever seen. From the very first moment, everything clicks like a well-oiled machine that is skillfully built with many intricate, moving parts. Every sentence of dialogue is quick and witty, all of the performances layered and constantly evolving, and each scene within the fast-paced editing retains the viewer’s attention for what will happen next. To put it simply, watch Parasite as soon as you can.

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