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What a year. By the time 2019 ended, I had seen over 130 new movies. It’s actually probably closer to 150 but I lost count. There are a few titles I missed, such as The Dead Don’t Die, The Fanatic and Honeyland so obviously, this is not an all-encompassing, definitive list of 2019’s best, but it should give you a good idea of which films you need to check out if you haven’t already.


I usually like to save the #10 spot on my list for a movie that’s just for me. Normally, this would mean a giant monster movie, an off-beat creation nobody else saw, a comic book movie that spoke to my particular tastes or maybe a Canadian movie I know didn’t get the opportunity to shine like it should’ve. This year, that’s not happening. Trimming my list down to 10 was hard enough. I certainly wasn’t going to sacrifice one more to make it just 9. Let’s dig in.


10. The Farewell

It’s been weeks since The Farewell and I’m still thinking about it. If I was put in the same position as Billi, I’m not sure what I’d do? Is it better to tell someone that’s dying that their days are numbered, or should you spare them from that burden? Is it really them you’d be sparing, or is keeping the secret for your own selfish needs? Writer/director Lulu Wang asks serious questions about culture I had never contemplated before. There’s a lot for you here and even more if your family comes from mixed backgrounds.


9. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

I heard some complaints about Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) not being the main character of this film by Marielle Heller, from writers Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster. It was the right choice. The plot has a cyical reporter meet Rogers and through their relatively brief interaction, learn what we knew going in. It delivers a moving character arc without having to stain its subject with flaws we didn’t want to see. The quasi-meta presentation is what elevates it into top-10 status. That extra touch means it does a lot more than simply re-iterate what we saw in the 2018 documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?.


8. Knives Out

Knives Out is one of the most entertaining films all year. There are no profound moments of meditation, no earth-shattering realizations about yourself, just a mystery to be solved. All the suspects are so intriguing they could be the stars of their own movies. Put together in the same house as a dead body and you’ve got no idea who did it. Its screenplay is excellent. The twists are juicy. Everything ads up in a satisfying manner. Rian Johnson is already working on a sequel. I can’t wait.


7. Apollo 11

There are few holdovers from the list I made halfway through the year, which either says something about the strength of the second half of 2019, or the weakness of the first. Either way, you’ve got to see Apollo 11. It’s the closest thing to going back in time and being there when man landed on the moon. The tension and anticipation are overwhelming. Knowing what happened doesn’t matter. The way the footage is assembled is nothing short of incredible. Why this documentary wasn’t present at the Academy Awards is beyond me.


6. Uncut Gems

Adam Sandler should’ve been nominated for an Oscar. He wasn’t. I’ll bet you dollars to donuts it’s because of his association with all of those brain-dead Happy Madison Production comedies. His history with cinema shouldn’t matter. The movie is what matters. The fact is, this was the perfect role for him. It isn’t even that Sandler’s doing something different, it’s that he’s being used to his full potential. If you weren’t glued to the screen, eager to see what’s coming next, this movie would have you jumping out of the window screaming - anything to escape the anxiety the Safdie Brothers serve up with devilish grins.


5. The Lighthouse

Next on my list is The Lighthouse. Right away, the aspect ratio and black-and-white cinematography lets you know you’re in for something different. You have no idea. What I love so much about this film is the way it handles madness. At the end of the day, I’m not sure if I could tell you if Robert Pattinson’s character was crazy, if Willem Dafoe’s character was the nutty one, or if they both were. It shows you just enough to make you doubt your own sanity. It’s also unexpectedly funny, which makes it feel oddly genuine. In one scene, Robert Pattinson’s Ephraim Winslow gets a hold of the lighthouse’s logs. In it, his boss, Thomas (Willem Dafoe) recommends Ephraim be disciplined for masturbating excessively. Considering Thomas has been cavorting with some kind of tentacle creature up in the lighthouse (at least that’s what I think I saw, I’m not so sure anymore), all you can do is laugh. What kind of loony bin is this turning into? One I’m looking forward to revisiting.


4. 1917

Shot in a way that makes it all look like one take, 1917 is a technical marvel. It hooks itself up to your circular system and steadily replaces your blood with pure, undistilled stress. As you’re about to flatline, it stops and gives you a breather. A shot of a meadow untouched by the ravages of war; a reminder of what the soldiers are fighting for and of how utterly devastating armed combat is on humanity as a whole. Gorgeous cinematography, powerful emotions, magnificent production values.


3. Joker

Along with Godzilla: King of the Monsters (a movie they basically made for me), this was my most anticipated movie of the year. To get ready, I watched Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, two Scorsese films Joker director Todd Phillips drew a lot of inspiration from. For some reason, it seems as though many critics took offense to the similarities. Sometimes I understand differing opinions from mine. This time, I don’t. It’s a great film that warns of the dangers of letting people like Arthur Fleck (brilliantly performed by Joaquin Phoenix) fall through the cracks. Left unchecked, he discovers that by doing terrible things, he becomes a “better” version of himself. It’s not a drama. It’s a horror movie that spins the familiar Batman archenemy in a new direction but also stays true to the character. There are several scenes in this movie that are going to be permanently imprinted in my brain. Those stairs. Need I say more?


Runner-ups

Avengers: Endgame

Even if every single Marvel movie going forward is awful, this caps off the whopping 22-chapter saga epically. A couple of aspects bugged me enough that it could only manage to make the runner-up list but it’s a terrific film.


Booksmart

The funniest comedy of the year. I think back to Amy and Molly using their hairs as masks and still can’t manage to hold back a few chuckles months later.


Toy Story 4

This one was hard to cut. The only flaw I could find was that it isn’t on the same level as 3… even though they’re both 5-star movies.


Midsommar

I’ve heard the extended cut is even better than the original. I wish I’d had the chance to see it in theatres.


Jojo Rabbit

Audacious and heartfelt. I loved those scenes of Scarlett Johanson being a mom. Her agent might’ve dropped the ball getting her cast in

Ghost in the Shell but she sure knew how to pick great work in 2019.


Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Quentin Tarantino brings us back to a time when Roman Polanski was simply a good director instead of a convicted rapist, movie stars were untouchable, and the death of someone’s wife under mysterious circumstances was nothing to raise eyebrows about. It’s not a movie that screams “here and now”. If anything, it’s regressive. That said, I cannot deny the experience I had watching it. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime kinda thing and I doubt even Tarantino could pull it off again. I wonder how many people went in knowing what happened to Sharon Tate like I did.


Marriage story

It’s nothing but raw emotion and powerhouse performances in this drama about two people you love going through a divorce. I always make it my goal to watch movies all the way through without any interruptions. Several times throughout, I was tempted to hit “Pause” so I could catch my breath.


Internet lists are everywhere. You know why, don’t you? They suck you in and when you get down to it, most don’t require all that much effort to put together. Except when I make them, apparently. These bi-annual lists always turn out to be difficult to put together. 2019’s proved particularly arduous. I’m fairly sure that my #3 movie belongs there. Out of all the movies on this list, it’s probably the one I’m going to go back to most often. The other two? I’d say that technically, one may be better than the other but I think the other one is “more important” so that gives it the edge. What I’m trying to say is, they’re all winners and on a different day, I might even swap them around.


2. Little Women

I have only seen three of the seven silver screen adaptations of Louisa May Alcott’s novel and I don’t expect any of the others to top this one. The secret ingredient to this one’s success is Greta Gerwig. Writing and directing, she does so much more than merely translate the classic to movie form. She re-arranges the story to give the events a greater punch than they would if they were shown chronologically and puts a little more emphasis on a couple of key moments (that tear-jerking Christmas, for example) to crank up the emotion. She also makes it more modern without having to change anything about the setting or characters. Admittedly, the back-and-forth between the past and present is a little jarring at first - makes you wonder what Greta Gerwig could’ve done had she been given the de-aging budget Martin Scorsese was given - but that’s where the performances and costumes come in. It takes mere moments before you get what the movie is doing. I’ve said it already but it made me cry.


1. Parasite

To make this list, I didn’t go through all of my past reviews and check which ones were rated what. I thought back to which movies gave me the most vivid memories, which ones gave me the biggest reactions. I’m still not sure how I feel about the final final moment but there’s so much about Parasite that I admire. This would be a great one to watch with others just to see their reactions to the reveal about the bookcase.

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tony: yesterday i tied my shoes for the first time!! without pepper’s help!!

pepper: yeah, if you call begging me to show you three times, attempting it yourself six times before getting it right, and throwing two tantrums as “doing it yourself”, then sure

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