Laramie Movie Scope:
Top, bottom films, etc. of 2019
Best, worst and ruminations on 2019 films
by Robert Roten, Film Critic
January 27, 2020 -- Here is my list of the best and worst films, best actors, etc. from the year of 2019.
There are the usual caveats. I saw most of the year's top films with the exception of a few films which had limited distribution or promotion in this country, mostly foreign and documentary films
So where are Parasite, Jojo Rabbit, The Irishman, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Us and Joker? I saw them, but didn't think they were quite good enough to make my Top 10 list. That doesn't mean Joaquin Phoenix's performance in Joker isn't good enough for a best actor award. It certainly is good enough. It's just the film that surrounds him isn't as good as he is, and that isn't unusual. Acting is just one part of a film, and maybe not the most important part, compared to the screenplay or the direction, for instance.
Parasite and Jojo Rabbit have the same problem, an awkward juxtaposition of comedy and tragedy, making them seem somewhat schizophrenic to me. Obviously, many others were not bothered by this, but I was. The Irishman would certainly qualify for the longest movie award, but even more than enough of the great Martin Scorcese didn't quite make the grade for best film this time around.
I'm not a fan of horror films to start with, but Us seemed to transcend that genre even less than Get Out did the previous year. I don't see either one of these films being top 10 material. For one thing, neither one of these films is as believable as any film in my top 10 list this year, except for the cartoons. It is more believable than a cartoon, but that is setting the believability bar way too low.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is an iconoclastic, good film, but as with many of Quentin Tarantino films, I have problems with its pacing, and some scenes drag on way too long. Did we really need any of that scene of Sharon Tate (played by Margot Robbie) sitting in a theater, watching a movie for what seemed an eternity?
There are also a few 2018 films in the 2019 lists below, mostly foreign films. Some 2018 foreign films were not released in the United States until 2019. Others were domestic films that got delayed for some reason.
Below this list of top films, are honorable mentions, followed by lists of my picks for top director, top actor, top foreign film, etc. Those lists are followed by lists of the worst films, overrated films, funniest, saddest, most romantic, etc. I've included a Dubious Distinction award for a film of “bad faith.” My top 10 lists include more comedy and films starring black actors, two varieties of movies absent from most top 10 lists. Drama is easy, but comedy is tough to get right.
Best 10 films of 2019
1. Knives Out
This is the best murder mystery movie I have seen in years, and that includes those lavish, star-laden Agatha Christie adaptations. This one is smart, funny, and loaded with red herrings. This is a real treat.
2. Ford v Ferrari
This is one of the greatest car racing movies ever made, along with Rush (2013). At the heart of the story is the relationship between two men, race car designer Carroll Shelby and race car driver Ken Miles. Anchored by two strong leading performances by Christian Bale and Matt Damon, and fueled by real race car scenes (not CGI) this is one exciting and emotionally moving film.
Based on personal stories, this emotional WWI combat film features the dazzling cinematography of Roger Deakins, and the seamless editing of Lee Smith. It is shot and edited in such a way that the whole film looks like one, uninterrupted camera shot. Strong acting performances, and a great musical score combine with the cinematography to make a great film, and Sam Mendes, after his DGA win, is a sure bet to win best director for this too.
This haunting documentary about the last wild bee keeper in Europe is the result of years of patient, careful cinematography. It becomes not only a stirring portrait of a wise, kind woman, but a cautionary tale about how people often don't live in harmony with nature, or each other.
5. The Cave
This is one of several excellent documentaries to come out of the Middle East in recent years, depicting big conflicts in personal terms. This is an amazing story of survival and human compassion in the midst of one of the most brutal bombing campaigns in history. Much like another celebrated documentary this year, For Sama, this is a love story, and a tireless fight to save lives in the midst of the Syrian civil war.
6. Marriage Story
Outstanding performances here by Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver as a New York show business couple going through an expensive and emotionally devastating divorce in California. It is superbly written and directed by Noah Baumbach.
This tale of misadventures is not fundamentally different from many others of this genre, but it is smartly written and smartly directed by first-timer Olivia Wilde. It is well paced and there is a satisfying mix of comedy and drama. This is certainly one of the year's best comedies, as well as one of the best films overall.
The acting, by Theron, Kidman, Robbie, McKinnon, Lithgow and others is very strong. The story is compelling, with plenty of drama and some humor. The screenplay, by Charles Randolph (“The Big Short”) is cleverly written, with some memorable lines. Director Jay Roach (“Trumbo”) keeps the pace of the film rolling along and balances the several story lines well.
This is a film all about inclusiveness, kindness, empathy and healing, which are all things sorely lacking in today's world, it seems. Maybe that is why I found this film so emotionally appealing. Sure, it is unrealistic escapism, but it offers something uplifting about the human spirit that many films lack.
10. Little Women
This film spins an old story anew. It is very cleverly written, directed, edited and acted. I can see why this film has earned awards and ended up on a lot of critics “top 10 films of 2019” lists, including my own, it seems. What's not to like? This film rates a B+.
This is a movie with a lot of visual magic. The narrative is aided by the acting talent and winning personalities of Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. These days, with science under attack from political and religious forces, it is great to see a film that celebrates these early pioneers of science.
This movie blows the lid off the tragedy of chemical dumping, but its greatest achievement is not a recitation of facts, it is how this tragedy is put in human terms — the human cost paid by those exposed to these chemicals.
Dolemite is My Name
For those unaware of the legend of Rudy Ray Moore, this movie seems like a fictional success story with a Hollywood ending (like “Bowfinger”) but it turns out to be an incredible true story based on a real man's career. Of course the language is extremely profane, and there is some nudity as well, but that aside, it is also one of the best movies of 2019.
This movie is a first-hand video account of life in Aleppo, Syria, at the very heart of the civil war. It is not political, in the sense of the politics behind the revolution, or the Syrian government, or the Russians, or other nations. Instead, it asks the question, why did the nations of the world stand by and do nothing as the men, women and children of Aleppo were being slaughtered?
The acting by Shia LaBeouf, Lucas Hedges and Noah Jupe, is stellar, while director Alma Har'el does a great job weaving this complex, time-hopping story together. This movie confronts the emotional pain of this troubled father-son relationship head on. It offers no easy answers. Nothing is black and white.
An emotionally powerful film, featuring excellent performances. It is very well crafted by writer-director Destin Daniel Cretton, based on Bryan Stevenson's book (Stevenson is portrayed by Michael B. Jordan of “Creed” and his client is played by Jamie Foxx of “Django Unchained”) about this historic capital murder case.
A chilling psychological drama about a high stakes power struggle between a high school teacher and her manipulative student, determined to get her fired.
This is a documentary film about a dangerous round-the-world race on a second-hand yacht, bought, repaired and refurbished by its all-woman crew. The experts bet the yacht would not finish the first leg of the 33,000 mile race. It not only finished the race, but crew and yacht became the toast of England upon their triumphant return.
Toy Story 4
The story is very inventive, action filled, and emotionally satisfying. If this is the last film in the series, it is a fitting end to it. This is another win for Pixar.
Directed by Benny and Josh Safdie (who also wrote the screenplay with Ronald Bronstein) this is a taut thriller, despite the fact that the basic story is predictable. Powered by Adam Sandler's amazing performance, this is like watching a guy juggling chain saws running at full speed. You know something bad is going to happen, but how long can he keep this up?
This psychological drama about a family in crisis is filled with hyperactive sound and imagery which can be a bit disconcerting at times, but the emotional message of the film about the need to use love to conquer hate comes through loud and clear. If this was an ordinary film, it would have ended with an act of murder, but this movie goes a step beyond to show how this crime profoundly affects an entire family.
Patrick Ivers’ favorite 2019 films:
Queen & Slim
The Professor & the Madman
Pain & Glory (Best Foreign Language film)
Judy (Renée Zellweger deserves Best Actress)
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
A Hidden Life
The Biggest Little Farm
One Child Nation
Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound
More lists below
Links to reviews of all the films on this page are indexed in the
following web pages:
1. Rian Johnson — Knives Out
2. James Mangold — Ford v Ferrari
3. Noah Baumbach — Marriage Story
4. Sam Mendes — 1917
5. Olivia Wilde — Booksmart
Best leading actor
1. Adam Driver — Marriage Story
2. Adam Sandler — Uncut Gems
3. Eddie Murphy — Dolemite is My Name
4. Michael B. Jordan — Just Mercy
5. Taron Egerton — Rocketman
Best leading actress
1. Renée Zellweger — Judy
2. Scarlett Johansson — Marriage Story
3. Cynthia Erivo — Harriet
4. Florence Pugh — Fighting With My Family
5. Naomi Watts — Luce
Best supporting actor
1. Christian Bale — Ford v Ferrari
2. Shia LaBeouf — Honey Boy
3. Jamie Foxx — Just Mercy
4. Brad Pitt — Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
5. Willem Dafoe — The Lighthouse
Best supporting actress
1. Kathy Bates — Richard Jewell
2. Octavia Spencer — Luce
3. Jamie Lee Curtis — Knives Out
4. Jennifer Lopez — Hustlers
5. Kaitlyn Dever — Booksmart
Best child actor
1. Noah Jupe — Honey Boy
Best adapted screenplay
1. Little Women — Greta Gerwig
2. Ford v Ferrari — Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth and Jason Keller
3. Dark Waters — Mario Correa Matthew Michael Carnahan
4. Just Mercy — Destin Daniel Cretton, Andrew Lanham and Bryan Stevenson
5. Hotel Mumbai —John Collee and director Anthony Maras
Best original screenplay
1. Ford v Ferrari — James Mangold
2. Knives Out — Rian Johnson
3. 1917 — Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns
4. Marriage Story — Noah Baumbach
5. Bombshell — Charles Randolph
Best documentary feature
2. The Cave
3. For Sama
5. American Factory
Best animated feature
2. Toy Story 4
3. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
4. Missing Link
5. The Secret Lives of Pets 2
Best foreign language film
2. The Cave
3. For Sama
4. Pain and Glory
1. 1917 — Roger Deakins
2. The Biggest Little Farm — John Chester
3. Queen & Slim — Tat Radcliffe
4. A Hidden Life — Jörg Widmer
5. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood — Robert Richardson
1. 1917 — Lee Smith
2. Ford v Ferrari — Andrew Buckland, Michael McCusker and Dirk Westervelt
3. Little Women — Nick Houy
4. Honeyland — Atanas Georgiev
5. For Sama — Chloe Lambourne and Simon McMahon
Best songs in movies
1. Rocketman — Songs by Elton John
2. Wild Rose — Songs sung by Jessie Buckley, Ashley McBryde and Kacey Musgraves.
Best visual effects
1. Avengers Endgame
2. Spider-Man: Far From Home
3. The Lion King
4. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
5. Captain Marvel
Links to reviews of all films on this site are indexed below:
Funniest films of the year
Saddest films of the year
Best love stories
Scariest villain of the year
Adelaide Wilson (played by Lupita Nyong'o) a doppelgänger seeking revenge in the horror film Us
The year's most overrated films
The year's best films you've never heard of
Amazing Grace (2019)This film of the late Aretha Franklin recording her live gospel album took decades to get to the screen, and it wasn't widely distributed. If you are a fan of Aretha's gospel music, you should see this.
This documentary about an American factory in the U.S. taken over by a Chinese management team is a study in two cultures, unions and the decline of wages and working conditions in America. Available only on Netflix streaming as of the date of this post.
This film about racial injustice and a broken criminal justice system wasn't widely distributed. This based-on-fact story is both frightening and inspirational.
The CaveA great, but poorly distributed documentary about the Syrian Civil War.
For SamaAnother great, but poorly distributed documentary about the Syrian Civil War.
Like most documentaries, this one was not widely distributed. It is an amazing film about an amazing woman, her close connection with nature, and her conflicts with some intrusive neighbors.
The LaundromatThis film about money laundering and corruption in the financial system is a lot like The Big Short. It not only explains financial crimes and scams, but it shows how they relate to ordinary people.
Wild RoseIf you like Country-Western music, you'll probably get a kick out of this musical drama. It is about a singer who wants to go to Nashville and hit it big, but she has an extra long way to go to get there. She lives in Scotland. Starring Irish singer Jessie Buckley, who has a great voice.
The Most Disappointing Films of 2019
While I saw most of the best films 2019, I purposefully missed nearly all of the reportedly bad films, including Arctic Dogs – Cats – Dark Phoenix – Rambo: Last Blood – The Prodigy – The Kitchen – Playing With Fire – Countdown – The Hustle – The Goldfinch – Replicas – Hellboy – Nobody's Fool – Unplanned – UglyDolls – Jexi – Poms and The Curse of la Llorona, among many others. I also missed most of the bad limited release bad films, so this is not in any way a list of the worst of the worst films, just the worst of the films I saw. I did see Isn't It Romantic, Alita: Battle Angel, and The Beach Bum, and while they were disappointing, it did not make my “worst of” list, because I went into them with low expectations. I saw Gemini Man, Dumbo and The Lion King and liked them more than most critics did.
The LighthouseThis movie got great reviews. Despite my misgivings about the director, I had hoped it would at least be good. Instead, I regretted wasting both money and time on it. In the future, I will avoid spending any money to see any more films directed by Robert Eggers.
Reactions to this movie are all over the map. It made some top 10 lists, and it won some awards, too, particularly for Joaquin Phoenix's excellent performance. On the other hand, it also made some “worst films of 2019” lists as well. My own reaction is somewhere in the middle between those two extremes.
Zombieland: Double TapSequels often don't come out quite as good as the first film, and that is the case here. This is another disappointing sequel.
Bad Faith Award
The Bad Faith Award this year goes to Clint Eastwood's Richard JewellBased on the true story about the unfair investigation of security guard Richard Jewell, Clint Eastwood's movie deviates from the facts enough to take some repugnant cheap shots at the late Kathy Scruggs, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter.
The film essentially depicts Scruggs (played by Olivia Wilde) as an unprincipled slut who sleeps with an FBI agent (a fabricated character) in order to get the story about how Jewell is a suspect in the 1996 Summer Olympic bombing in Atlanta. It is entirely legal, if not moral, to defame a dead person in this way. This depiction appears to be misogynistic, and I don't like it.
The FBI did, in fact, suspect Jewell (played by Paul Walter Hauser in an excellent performance) of the bombing, and there were ample reasons to suspect him. The real bomber, Eric Robert Rudolph, who confessed to the Olympic bombing, is hardly mentioned in the film. Rudolph committed three more bombings, causing a death and injuries, after the Olympic bombing, and before he was caught in 2003. The film omits these facts, and, further, it completely omits Rudolph's anti-socialist, anti-abortion and anti-homosexual rationalizations for his bombings, based on his Christian faith.
These depictions, omissions and fabrications leave us with a slanted story of what can easily be called a “witch hunt” and “fake news.” It hardly seems a coincidence, given Eastwood's political views, that these same kinds of labels are often used by President Donald Trump to evade responsibility. Trump labels any unflattering news about himself as fake news and he uses the term witch hunt to describe the many criminal investigations of him, his campaign and his businesses.
Links to all my reviews are indexed below:
Copyright © 2020 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
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