by Rosalie Lewis
OK, this is starting to feel like when I was a kid and I’d kiss all my stuffed animals good night before picking up my two favorites and tucking them into bed with me. “You’re all special and loved, I swear,” I would say, trying to allay my guilt over inanimate objects potentially feeling somehow left out. But you get the idea—we got a lot of great movies this year and I can’t mention them all right now. Just trust me on this.
10. Uncut Gems
Howard should by rights be a guy the audience wants to punch in the face, but somehow Sandler and the script make him a guy we end up rooting for—even as he makes one bad decision after another, getting in his own way at every turn. If just one thing turned out right for him, it might fix all the other things—but he does not seem the best judge of what risks are worth the possible payoff.
I have to call out Lakeith Stanfield and Julia Fox, who play Howard’s business partner and girlfriend, respectively. A performance as big as Sandler’s (from a celebrity of his stature) might threaten to dwarf anyone who shared a scene, but these two never hesitate. They more than hold their own and I’d be willing to watch a spin off movie about each of their characters. It’s refreshing when supporting characters have that kind of substance.
Get Out. The red jumpsuits. The ominous remix of “I Got 5 On It.” The doppelgangers. The man dripping blood on the beach. The funhouse that does not seem fun AT ALL.
I ended up watching this twice in the theater, and both times I fell for it completely. Lupita Nyong’o blew my mind with her dual performance. The creeping sense of one too many coincidences before the tethered family shows up at the house got to me both times, even knowing what was coming. The 80s pop culture references cleverly spliced into the flashbacks hinted at social commentary that eventually became less opaque.
My favorite scene of the year in any movie is the dance/fight scene—incredible choreography and music, not to mention the editing. And all to illustrate in such a poignant way that the comforts we enjoy often have a hidden cost; that we ought to examine the ways in which we benefit from systems that hold other people down. I still find myself wrestling with this movie and this topic as we start a new year.
8. Always Be My Maybe
The Big Sick, which I adore. Ali Wong as Sasha and Russell Park as Marcus find just the right balance of sweet, silly, and relatable as a couple of childhood friends who grew apart and have unresolved feelings for each other. I like that the movie didn’t make the woman give up her career aspirations to pursue love; and it didn’t position the man as some handsome prince. They’re just two people who have their own hang ups but they also care deeply about family and heritage, and they’re nervous putting their feelings for each other out there because that might mean confronting parts of themselves they’re not so comfortable addressing.
In addition to the central couple, James Saito (who played The Shredder in the 1990 TMNT movie) absolutely shines as Marcus’s easy going dad who has a major thing for Diana Ross. Plus, of course, Keanu Reeves has an unforgettable cameo as “himself,” and I have not laughed at anything more this year.
a recent column, but much like the town of Dakar where the story takes place, I find myself haunted by the film and its characters. Economic inequality cropped up as a theme in a number of my favorite 2019 films, and this one addressed it by having literal specters appear to seek justice from an otherworldly realm. Claire Mathon’s gorgeous cinematography captured moments that felt out of time, and writer/director Mati Diop conveyed a sense of yearning and melancholy rarely found outside an Elliott Smith album. Just thinking about it makes me sigh (in a good way).
Let’s talk about Florence Pugh for a second, who had a hell of a 2019. Her character in this should give a pep talk to Scarlett Johannsen’s character in Marriage Story, because damn. Also, having just seen Little Women, I find it hilarious that she plays two different characters with pyro moments. I’ll leave it at that to avoid spoilers but if you’ve seen both, you should catch my meaning. I hated her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) from the first five seconds he was on screen, and that hatred intensified as the film went on.
I’m glad I can’t relate to this specific movie scenario, but I’d bet money that most people have been in at least one relationship where one person is clearly more invested than the other, and the less invested person keeps making their partner second guess and give them the benefit of the doubt instead of just walking away. It’s a horrible emotional purgatory to be in, and this movie takes that feeling to its metaphorical end in a brilliant way. I applauded at the final scene.
5. Honey Boy
This thinly veiled autobiographical tale evolved out of a therapy exercise the real Shia LaBeouf did in rehab, and it feels both revelatory and cathartic. I can’t imagine the empathy and courage it takes to inhabit the headspace of a father that behaved this way, but LaBeouf takes it on and it’s a triumph. Jupe delivers one of the best child performances I’ve seen in years, and made me want to just give the kid a big hug at times.
I gotta show love to cinematographer Natasha Braier (whose previous credits include the visually stunning Neon Demon), because she found ways to shoot and light this movie even as the blocking was being improvised moment to moment. It can’t be easy to move back and forth between the sunny Southern California outdoors and the claustrophobic griminess of a cheap motel room, and still make it all feel cohesive and emotionally resonant, but she does it.
4. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
What did I love about this movie? Everything involving Brad Pitt and his dog. The scene with Leo and the little girl. Sharon Tate at the movies. Every song that played on the radio in Brad Pitt’s car. The flame thrower. Spahn Ranch. Leo rehearsing lines in the pool. And most of all, the underlying message that movies can provide an alternate ending, a second chance, an immortality that real life simply cannot. And isn’t that why we love them? Because they help us imagine a different, better world.
3. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Since this has not yet opened wide (at least in the Chicago area), I will keep plot details brief to avoid spoiling the experience. Set in 1700s France, we meet Marianne (Noemie Merlant) who gets hired to paint a portrait of Heloise (Adele Haenel). The catch is that Heloise refuses to sit for a portrait, and Marianne must pose as simply a walking companion, sketching furiously in secret based on her brief interactions with Heloise. Something much deeper forms between the two women, and soon you’re watching the most elegant and heart-rending romance this side of a Bronte novel. SWOON.
2. Knives Out
The Last Jedi (which, not to start a war, is my favorite Star Wars movie). I’ve enjoyed his work going back to Brick and Looper, and this movie is now officially my favorite of his. It’s yet another 2019 movie that tackles income disparity and social inequality, but it never ever feels preachy. It just feels clever and fun and precise, the way all the best Ernst Lubitsch comedies do. He manages to make a labyrinthine plot feel light and lived in, with characters that have just enough shading to avoid being caricatures even in such a large ensemble cast.
Let’s talk about the setting: That HOUSE. I want someone to buy that house and preserve it in this form and charge admission so I can just go there and walk around and explore all the rooms in their fascinating, fastidious detail. I also want to read all those mystery novels—or at least see future movies/TV shows based upon them, also written and directed by Rian Johnson and also starring Daniel Craig.
And of COURSE, the cast. Ana de Armas, upstaging everyone just by not being an asshole. Chris Evans, upstaging everyone by being the biggest asshole (and having the best sweater). Christopher Plummer, delighting in the selfish machinations of his dumb family. And the aforementioned Craig, whose post-Bond career promises to be filled with comedic turns and unexpected accents. I could go on and on, but I probably should stop.
I truly loved Little Women, Luce, Ford v. Ferrari, The Farewell, Satanic Panic, Marriage Story, Homecoming: A Film By Beyonce, The Irishman, Blinded by the Light, and Knives and Skin.
NEED TO SEE:
I’m still playing catch up on the year, so my watchlist includes The Lighthouse, Harriet, Richard Jewell, Queen & Slim, Alita: Battle Angel, Frozen 2, Luz, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Dark Waters, In Fabric, Waves, and any number of documentaries.