Welcome 2020 with one last look back at the best releases of 2019, as seen by the Parallax View contributors and friends.
(In reverse alphabetical order by contributor)
Richard T. Jameson
1. Once upon a Time … in Hollywood
2. The Irishman
3. Marriage Story
4. Little Women
6. Richard Jewell
7. A Hidden Life
10. Pain and Glory / Parasite
A few steps behind, in alphabetical order:
1917, The Art of Self-Defense, The Dead Don’t Die, Dragged Across Concrete, It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Joker, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, The Lighthouse, The Nightingale, The Souvenir, Uncut Gems
1. Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood
2. The Irishman
3. The Souvenir
8. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
9. The Nightingale
Toy Story 4, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Pain and Glory, An Elephant Sitting Still, Arctic, 1917, Little Women, The Dead Don’t Die, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, The Art of Self-Defense.
Robert C. Cumbow
The Magnificent Seven
I didn’t see all of the films I’d like to have seen, but I did a fair job of catching the ones I most wanted to, and of those, here are the ones I liked best:
Domino (Brian De Palma) took a lot of flak for being cut down from 150+ minutes to 88, but for me it was a crisp, clean 88 and the best film De Palma’s done since Femme Fatale. Combining the strongest elements of Femme Fatale and Redacted with some actual thought about what it means to make images and the all-too-human motivations that underlie our most high-minded moral choices, this has to be my top film of 2019.
Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino). QT is back and bestowing eternal life on one actor who had it taken away too soon and another who never existed. This one made me feel like his best films always did—immediately wanting to see it again, and think and talk and write more about it.
Ad Astra (James Gray). Friends have persuaded me that this film is filled with claptrap, but for all that, no one can convince me that it isn’t visually and intellectually exhilarating from start to finish.
Little Women (Greta Gerwig) The transforming ending brings chills and tears and—for a copyright lawyer—the most liberating terms-negotiation since Mattie Ross bought a horse from Colonel Stonehill.
Uncut Gems (Safdie Bros.) Driving, frenetic, nerve-wracking—uncompromisingly original.
The Irishman (Martin Scorsese) Scorsese’s definitive statement about gangsters remains Goodfellas. But that’s mainly because this epic-length meditation is more about age and memory than about gangsters.
Pain and Glory (Pedro Almodovar) Full of a lot of both, this is one of those films whose final shot transforms and justifies all that’s gone before.
The Joy of Genre
Crawl (Alexandre Aja). What a delight to watch Aja avoid all of the usual mistakes and clichés, making horror and suspense fresh again.
Knives Out (Rian Johnson). The family gathers at the house for the reading of the will and the interrogations of a self-styled detective. It’s serious enough not to be a spoof but a celebration of the whodunit, yet funny enough not to take itself too seriously, and God bless Toni Collette.
Near Misses and Bridges Too Far
A Hidden Life (Malick). Parts of this were as good as anything Malick did in his prime, with strong reminders of what we loved most about Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line. But parts were repetitious and uncommitted, and the sheer weight of the thing ended up working against it (and its audience).
Parasite (Bong Joon-Ho) Everybody else loved this movie. I liked it more when it was funny than when it was troubling. I don’t think Bong meant what everybody thought he meant.
Joker (Todd Phillips) I’m not convinced that Phillips knew what he was doing, whom he was stealing from and why, or what he thought he wanted to say. But I won’t soon forget the disorienting experience of watching this deranged film and wondering whether the director and his star were ever on the same page.
Three Sophomores: Someday This Kid’s Gonna Make a Really Good Movie
Under the Silver Lake (David Robert Mitchell) —and meanwhile I’ll take the sheer not-so-guilty pleasure of watching this inspired, uncertain, undisciplined vision take off in all kinds of crazy directions.
Midsommar (Ari Aster) —and meanwhile I’ll stay patient and keep faith while he works on his discipline.
The Lighthouse (Robert Eggers) —well, he’s far from a kid, but who is he kidding? The audience or himself?
Leftovers (2018 films that didn’t reach me till 2019: Better late than never—much better)
Destroyer (Karyn Kusama)
Cold War (Pawel Pawlikowski)
The Sisters Brothers (Jacques Audiard)
Transit (Christian Petzold)
Pino Donaggio, Domino
Max Richter, Ad Astra
But When All Is Said and Done
The bar-none very best time I had watching movies this year was sitting down just a few weeks ago with Film Movement’s gorgeous 4K Blu-ray restoration of Fritz Lang’s The Tiger of Eshnapur and The Indian Tomb. They sure as hell don’t make ’em like that anymore.
David Coursen (Washington, D.C.)
1. Little Women (Greta Gerwig)
2. The Irishman (Martin Scorsese)
3. Hale County This Morning, This Evening (RaMell Ross)
4. Birds of Passage (Ciro Guerra and Cristina Gallego)
The next group is listed alphabetically:
The Dead Don’t Die (Jim Jarmusch), Grass (Hong Sang-soo), Long Day’s Journey into Night (Bi Gan), Pain and Glory (Almodovar), Parasite (Bong Joon-ho)
A 6-way tie for the last spot:
Ash is Purest White (Jia Zhangke), Everybody Knows (Asgahr Farhadi), A Hidden Life (Malick), A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Marielle Heller), Sorry We Missed You (Ken Loach), The Souvenir (Joanna Hogg)
Honorable Mention: Dark Waters, Marriage Story, Uncut Gems
1. Pain and Glory
3. Little Women
4. Marriage Story
5. The Cave
6. The Irishman
7. The Farewell
8. I Lost My Body
9. Amazing Grace
10. The Nightingale
1. The Irishman
2. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
4. Little Women
5. Marriage Story
6. The Last Black Man in San Francisco
7. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
10. Knives Out
Ten more films, listed alphabetically:
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Booksmart, Ford v Ferrari, High Life, The Lighthouse, Monos, My Name is Dolemite, The Nightingale, Pain and Glory, Uncut Gems
Most fun I had in a movie theater in 2019: Knives Out, a film that proves again how Rian Johnson is the most creative genre filmmaker around, satisfying all the expectations of his genre pictures while still constantly surprising audiences, and going them a good ride along the way.
Most emotional engagement I had in a movie theater in 2019: Little Women, a film about family that hasn’t received nearly the attention of Parasite, the year’s other great film about family.
Most frustrating film of the year: Ad Astra, which features visionary images and a superbly tactile presentation of what spaceflight and space life could be in the near future, and then drowns in half-baked father-son melodrama and a return trip to Earth that throws away all the laws of physics the film so carefully addressed to up to that point.
The Seattle Film Critics Society gave their 2019 awards; you can find them here.
Polls / Lists
2019 additions to the Library of Congress National Film Registry
Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell’s Ten Best Films of … 1929
Rotten Tomatoes Top-rated movies of 2019
Here’s the Parallax View list for 2019
Remembering those we lost in 2019