I’ve seen countless movies revolving around the concept and execution of love. Far from a foreign concept in film, most of these love stories get recycled over and over again, with different variations cropping up nearly every weekend with new releases. Streaming services come out with these romantic movies and series constantly. All of this makes the love story in Portrait of a Lady on Fire that much more striking and important.
Something incredible happens about midway through Céline Sciamma’s lesbian love story: you find yourself wholly invested in this relationship. It takes up the most important corner of your mind. Cinematographer Claire Mathon and Sciamma work together to create special moments through the use of camera movements and focuses. In each scene of dialogue, of action, or even of pure stillness, the camera keeps each woman as the center of attention.
Their faces fill the dead center of the screen, and instead of using over-the-shoulder shots and other usual devices, Mathon continues to put them front and center. Even when both women are on the screen, she keeps only one of them in view, leading to this absolutely breathtaking couple of seconds.
By doing this, Sciamma and Mathon don’t allow you to think about anything else in the film. You only consider the face on the screen, with the weight of each of their emotions. Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel use subtle facial expressions to break your heart, put it back together again, and break it once again. The cinematographer remains utterly fantastic and unmatched, giving you reason to be attentive and hyper-focused. Portrait of a Lady on Fire never loses you, or allows you to leave its world, and for the overwhelming majority of the film, you’re more than happy to sit, walk, and paint with these women.
The love in Sciamma’s film feels real in its forbidden nature. The timing is off. The circumstances are less than ideal, to put it mildly. Her intent to tell a forbidden lesbian romance story deserves an amount of admiration and immense respect. It’s a period piece focusing on those largely ignored in period pieces: women and particularly lesbians. Though there were definite similar themes in Yorgos Lanthimos’sThe Favourite, that film dealt less with love and more with power and status. In Sciamma’s film, the opposite is true, flirting with the notions of status within the world of high art, but focusing on the power of love, not the power of the crown.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire affects you. It takes ahold of you (and your heart) and doesn’t let go for the 121-minute runtime. With outstanding performances and a sharp script, Sciamma’s film becomes a rare piece of cinema in your mind: one that pushes you to refocus your life, and your moviegoing experiences, around love. It plays out like a painting itself, slowly becoming more gorgeous and telling as time goes on.
This film is special. It puts your gaze directly on the beauty, the ugly, the fantasy, and the reality of love, with varying intersection layered beneath. Portrait of a Lady on Fire has power, weight, and importance, and for many, will be one of the best films of the year and an early contender for the best love story of 2020.
As I sat in a sold out showing of Bad Boys for Life, I couldn’t stop myself from smiling. The crowd cheered within the first 15 minutes, and kept the excitement for the entire 124-minute runtime. It mirrored some of the early Avengers movies, the way that people react to franchises with larger budgets, more films, and way more star-power. But, it didn’t matter, because the idea of one last run with these actors we’ve known for the entire 21st century gave all of us too much interest and in the end, too much joy.
The ‘Bad Boys’ franchise rests solely on the shoulders of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, two men in their 50s fluctuating between A- and B-list status. The original Bad Boys came out 25 years ago and Bad Boys II wasn’t far behind, released in 2003. Both of the first two films were panned by critics, with this new installment far surpassing the others on aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, and though this shouldn’t be the ultimate barometer, it is the most popular for the regular moviegoer. Bad Boys for Life is the first in the franchise to be certified fresh on the site, the first to be directed by someone other than Michael Bay (6 Underground), and becoming one of the highest box office debuts in the month of January.
For some reason, we love the idea of “running it back” one last time. We go to high school and college reunions 25 years later. We play endless video games against friends growing up. We eat the same meals over and over again. Jokes that were told 15 years prior still make us laugh with friends we haven’t seen in months. And so, movies about taking “one last ride” or “one last mission” or “one last chance at love” become irresistible. For example, Wild Hogs, a film with no real stakes, plot, or critical positivity, ended up making over $250 million at the box office. Almost every heist movie ever made follows the “one last job” mantra and trope, but we still head to the theater in droves. Bad Boys for Life was supposed to be that “one last mission” but because of its success, Bad Boys 4 is now already in the works.
We love these films and these circumstances in life because the stakes are at their absolute peak. It’s a Game 7 for a chance to be a world champion. It’s a do-or-die, a road back to prison or off to the beaches in the Caribbean. Somehow, the last time becomes the most important time. These high stakes sold audiences and critics alike on the Smith and Lawrence combination back again in Bad Boys for Life, with even the characters stating that this is 100% the last go-around.
Smith and Lawrence are joined in the film by old friends like Joe Pantoliano as Captain Howard and new faces like Paola Nuñez, Vanessa Hudgens, Charles Melton, and Alexander Ludwig as the team surround the two veterans. Introduce worthy villains in mom-and-daughter Mexican mobsters Isabel Aretas (Kate del Castillo) and Armando Armas (Jacob Scipio) and you have yourself a movie. Complete with a cheesy-turned-funny script helmed by Chris Bremner, the film leans heavily on the leads’ age, joking about their eyesight, their fitness, their technological issues, and their mutual understanding that retirement is coming fast.
More than anything, you buy into this film because it’s fun to watch. It’s a joy to reminisce and it’s a blast to be with these guys for one last time. Lawrence takes on the comedic elements, proving he’s still a commendable funnyman, and Smith shoulders the action scenes, giving us a glimpse at how incredible Gemini Man could have been. The two still show their top notch chemistry and play off one another to the audience’s satisfaction. The action sequences find the two in solid form, and the set pieces put against the Miami backdrop make for a gorgeous, ritzy landscape.
Directing duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah capture the Miami Vice style of a cool, crime-action buddy content, making these characters the best of the best, hilarious, and in this case, past their prime. The directors deserve credit for taking a franchise that looked dead in the water into a welcome, January surprise.
A film that shows its co-stars having 90s amounts of fun, Bad Boys for Life lets the audience in on the joke, and winks at moviegoers every chance it gets. The cast and crew looks to be having a ball, and the audience follows suit. Even if Columbia Pictures ends up making a sequel to Bad Boys for Life, we will always have this version of Smith and Lawrence for their (supposed) one last ride.
Since 2008, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has released 23 feature films. The combined budget for these films hovers around $4.5 billion while the combined box office adds up to more than $22.5 billion. Audiences love these movies, and our view of a superhero has morphed in the process. We look for superheroes to have at least one of a variety of traits, including but not limited to super strength, teleportation, mind control, suits with super armor, a godly hammer, or even just an array of assassin skills. With each new film, our expectations for a superhero and their abilities raise
Enter writer/director Julia Hart (Miss Stevens) and actor Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Motherless Brooklyn) and their film Fast Color. Hart’s movie focuses in on Ruth (Mbatha-Raw), a woman who has powers she cannot control, which cause earthquakes. Her abilities cause destruction, and we her on the run from the law and from scientists hoping to capture and study her.
After a couple close calls, she decides to head home, finding her mother Bo (Lorraine Toussaint) and abandoned daughter Lila (Saniyya Sidney) living somewhat happily. Both also have these powers, and can see “the colors,” which Ruth hasn’t seen in years once she lost control of how to use her superhuman features. The women decide to help Ruth take back her life, her body, and her powers, as Ruth hopes to reconnect to her mother, her daughter, and herself in the process. The setup looks like a far cry from those Marvel movies we’ve come to know and love.
The difference between Marvel and Fast Color is in the protagonists. In most superhero or at least superhuman films, those with the powers save someone or something. They are protectors, last lines of defense. In Hart’s film, the superhero needs saving. She asks for help, and she’s the destructive force in the universe. An oddly poetic story follows, which pushes the narrative that we all require saving from time to time, and that superhuman abilities don’t need to translate into saving the world.
Mbatha-Raw gives more of herself as the film progresses, and the performance actually becomes much better after a few weeks of reflection. Fast Color is the first superhero movie, outside of Black Panther, that stuck itself in the corner of the mind, existing more as a thought-provoker than a one-time explosive experience. Hart’s film also becomes more beautiful as Ruth rediscovers her powers, and finally sees “the colors,” a worthy wait for the audience. Once she, and we in turn, see them, it all begins to have meaning on a deeper level and resonance beyond just a mother/daughter story.
Though it falters during a few scenes and the dialogue can be a bit shaky, Fast Color holds a weight in its hands, and changes how you think about the (de-glamorized) superhero as human instead of godly. It puts a face to a genre that usually is filled with masks and suits. It shows the pains and difficulties, instead of the heroics. Ruth’s gender and ethnicity only add to the nuance and importance of Fast Color, as you learn that she deserves screen time just as much as the Avengers, the Eternals, and any other group of people we assign admiration and value to as a society.
Fast Color and its hero have more than superhuman powers, they have drive and purpose, and intent to do good in the world. If more movies follow suit, a new superhero will be formed, one void of perfection and full of promise.
When I was just a kid, I remember seeing Forrest Gump, a film that most of have seen at one point in our lives. Tom Hanks’s portrayal and Robert Zemeckis’s film of a man lost in time, lost at war, and lost in love looked less at the spectacle of war and more at the specificity of this one man’s journey. Since then, in truth, I haven’t seeked out movies depicting war outside of the so-called classics, like Saving Private Ryan, Platoon, and Full Metal Jacket. The rest of the war movies came to me due to awards buzz and subsequent success, like The Hurt Locker, American Sniper, and Dunkirk.
None of these films impacted me like Forrest Gump. In all fairness to these films, I watched the majority of them when I was either too distracted, too uninformed, or too young. At those ages, film stood as a way to pass the time, rather than a medium to now analyze and critique. Hollywood’s newest war drama, 1917 from director Sam Mendes (Skyfall, American Beauty), has taken awards season by storm, becoming the shiniest piece of candy in the shop and the pearl of critics and audiences alike.
In terms of technical achievement, 1917 deserves every nomination and award it can muster. The one-shot method of cinematography should give the beloved Roger Deakins another Oscar win, and you feel like you’re on this journey with the two young, British soldiers. Played by George MacKay and Dean Charles-Chapman, these Lance Corporals embark on a messenger mission to a group of soldiers heading into a trap, one of which is Lance Corporal Blake’s (Charles-Chapman) brother, giving us a glimpse of Richard Madden with little time left in the film.
Due to the camera’s constant movement, we walk with these boys, then run with them, even dying with them when the time comes. Deakins’s work provides an immersive experience, an epic one enhanced when seeing 1917 on the big screen in a dark and crowded theater. Only one distinguishable cut occurs in the film, after Corporal Schofield (MacKay) falls down a flight of stairs and knocks out, only to awake in the middle of the night with a ticking clock and a bloody back of the head. Other than that, this nearly one-take film looks seamless, and for the most part, gorgeous.
The spectacle of war remains in the forefront, as the men wade through dead bodies, bunkers, and finally a massive battlefront. Deakins, who deserves a writing credit on this film, and Mendes show the macro toll of war on a micro scale through the eyes of two (but mostly one) soldiers. MacKay stays at the center of it all in a performance that won’t be given enough recognition but will be remembered for its quietness, along with the boyish naivete of his face and the hardness of his eyes that develops over the course of the film.
The film features some moments that can be labeled as “traditional emotional” with the swelling of music, the men in uniforms resigning to their feelings, and the death of men, as well as innocence. Unfortunately, these moments felt empty in the grand scheme of the war. These moments are not hinting, but telling you, “This is the time to be emotional. Start crying now!” Subtlety falls away, the dialogue becomes heavy-handed, and our connection to these characters feels one-sided. By the end of the film, the audience has seen these characters through hell, but we still know very little about them. It became tough to believe that any of this mattered, and if my care for the corporals was heartfelt or manufactured.
If 1917 sweeps the Oscars, it won’t be surprising. The Academy has long rewarded war depictions. Though Dunkirk disappointed in its awards campaign, the buzz surrounding Mendes’s film is real. The accomplishment is laid bare for all to see, but for all this impressive filmmaking, the story, like that of Dunkirk, doesn’t provoke, emote, or stick into the corner of your mind like other films this year. Looking past the technical elements, you find a film that struggles in moments of raw emotion, putting the merry-go-round of British talent in to distract you from its lackluster dialogue and surface characters.
I’ll always prefer films like Forrest Gump to films like 1917. We live with Gump, while we just pop in with Schofield. Unfortunately, we don’t see how all of this affects Schofield like we do with Gump. We don’t see what happens after the one-take ends and the bodies are cleared. We’re too focused on the pileup, on the mission at hand. We keep looking at the spectacle instead of the faces of those running so we can see movie magic.
If the smoke clears and Mendes stands on stage at the end of the night, it will be a win for technical and athletic filmmaking, a win for a solid film with solid actors, and a win for empty epics pretending to be full of emotion. The swell of the music got the best of us once again.
Though film has always been a part of my life, it used to be something in the background, existing as a sort of comfort. As I played with my trains, my building blocks, or even chess with my mom, a movie would be playing as well. I grew older, and paid more attention to these movies, giving them my time and energy, becoming absorbed with directors like Wes Anderson and Richard Linklater. Entering middle and high school and coming-of-age myself, these films became a part of our shared story, and became influential in my life.
From 2010-2019, film became a passion of mine. It became an aspect of my life that I truly cared about, a subject in which all I wanted was to learn, a special feeling and moment. Many incredible films didn’t make my list, including Jordan Peele’s Get Out, Linklater’s Before Midnight, and even Taika Waititi’sHunt for the Wilderpeople. Not necessarily the most influential or most award-worthy movies, this list represents movies that helped me grow up and helped my continually fall in love with film.
10. Sing Street — d. by John Carney
Take 80s music, with a special love for Duran Duran. Combine those tunes, both original and covers, with a classic coming-of-age story. The finished product is director John Carney’s Sing Street, a film that aims to please. The teenage performances remain solid across the board, the script features whip-smart writing, and Carney captures an air of essence and nostalgia for an entire generation. If you like musicals, you’ll love it. If you don’t like musicals, pretty sure you’ll still love it.
9. The Florida Project — d. by Sean Baker
The concept behind Sean Baker’sThe Florida Project is a simple one: look into the lives of those living just outside of Walt Disney World. Baker gives us this slice-of-life glimpse by tracking the tot-sized residents and their parents living in a local motel, run by the go-to indie leading man of Willem Dafoe. The Florida Project feels important when you’re watching it, as you know these families are much more real than just actors on a screen. Poignant, precious, and heartbreaking, the film deals us the significant themes of family, abuse, and poverty, all in the gorgeous backdrop of the happiest place on Earth.
8. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl — d. by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
In terms of quirky comedy-dramas about high schoolers dealing with traumatic life experiences, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl still finds a way to be new and different. The script by Jesse Andrews segments the story, allowing you to settle in with these characters, spending time with them in the little moments. The chemistry between Greg (Thomas Mann) and Earl (RJ Cyler) sets the film apart, with their spoof movies being remarkable and memorable. An entire film composed of these miniature films would be good enough, but the rest of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl provides careful measures filled with sweetness and heart.
7. Coco — d. by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina
Something happens when you’re watching Pixar’s Coco. You become enveloped by this young boy, his family, and their collective story. The film embraces you in a loving hug, one that leaves you with tears in your eyes and a huge grin on your face. The film features catchy yet sweet original music, Pixar’s always incredible animation, and a relatable narrative which pulls you into this world. A Latino story with a Latino cast, Coco gives an added voice and face to Mexican culture and family life, something that was and still is much needed in Hollywood.
6. Whiplash — d. by Damien Chazelle
The most anxiety-inducing film of the decade, Whiplash runs at breakneck speed, giving you unforgettable stretches and bone-rattling performances. J.K. Simmons pulls you apart, as you feel the criticism seeping into your mind, with Miles Teller giving a star-turning leading performances that almost matches Simmons’ intensity. You never once take your eyes off the screen. You never once think to run to the restroom. The film takes hold of you and doesn’t let go until the credits roll. In a strong year for film (2015), Whiplash will always have my vote for Best Picture.
5. We the Animals — d. by Jeremiah Zagar
A gorgeous film with striking cinematography, interesting animation, and a complicated tale of growing up without support, We the Animals might be the most underrated film of 2018. Adapted for the screen by author Justin Torres, this semi-autobiographical queer coming-of-age tale exists in the stillness of youth. The film never rushes through its scenes or its story, allowing the characters to simply be in this world. Fantastic acting from child and adult actors alike, We the Animals must be seen, for it’s far too important to be ignored.
4. Shoplifters — d. by Hirokazu Koreeda
A film overshadowed by the foreign film success of Roma, Hirokazu Koreeda’s Shoplifters absolutely floored me. The film’s portrayal of a makeshift family, one formed out of necessity, heartbreaks its audience. The performance by Lily Franky as the father of this poverty-living family should be considered among the performances of the year. The backstory unfolds throughout the film, giving us bits and pieces instead of a traditional introduction to these people. Shoplifters is an example of careful filmmaking with a focus on trying to answer the question of family and what that word means in this big world.
3. Frances Ha — d. by Noah Baumbach
Noah Baumbach. Greta Gerwig. Adam Driver. A stunning black-and-white New York with a quick trip to Paris. Frances Ha includes all of those items and much more, forming into an essential film for lovers of offbeat humor, struggling in your 20s and 30s, and pursuing your dream in the Big Apple. In my mind, Baumbach’s finest work until 2019’s Marriage Story, the film finds the writer-director in fantastic form, showcasing his skill for penning conversations that you’ve had in your life. A necessary film for New York residents.
2. Moonlight — d. by Barry Jenkins
Likely the most important film of the 2010s, Moonlight transcends the classic narrative structure, providing audiences with a story that has never been told with this vision, heart, and consideration. A Mahershala Ali performance for the ages, the actor became a cultural touchstone, and the scene of him in the water remains copied constantly. The film vaulted Barry Jenkins into one of the world’s best filmmakers, a director that makes movies that matter. Moonlight tells a touching, quintessential American story, laced with LGBTQ significant. A gorgeous portrait of a life worth living, Moonlight deserves your attention.
1. Inside Llewyn Davis — d. by the Coen Brothers
Inside Llewyn Davis might very well be the Coen Brothers best film outside of No Country for Old Men, featuring one of the most soulful, melancholic, and impressive performances of the decade in Oscar Isaac’s portrayal of a folk singer attempting to realize his professional dreams. With solid role players in Justin Timberlake, Adam Driver, and Carey Mulligan, the cast takes the Coens’ smart script to new heights, culminating in a piece of art that gets better with rewatches. Inside Llewyn Davis is an example of directors and actors working at their highest abilities, creating a near perfect piece of filmmaking.
What a year! After seeing over 100 new releases, some which blew my mind, some which didn’t shake my brain at all, I can say with confidence that I loved in film in 2019. We were given films by the greats including Martin Scorsese and Pedro Almodovar, as well as films from rising stars like Jordan Peele, Greta Gerwig, and the Safdie Brothers. I laughed. I cried. I left the theaters confused several times. A fantastic year for film.
A simple hobby that has transformed into something much more, film criticism is such a messy, enjoyable, frustrating, and passionate way to spend time, and I’m glad several people find my writing good enough to publish. It’s been quite an honor, and quite a year.
My top 10 films of the year is a list that has changed too many times to count. It features movies I loved, I respected, and I found important to me, to others, and to society. Let’s start with some honorable mentions and countdown from 10.
Sword of Trust: a concept that is both hilarious and fascinating, this film written and directed by Lynn Shelton brought me a huge amount of joy. Marc Maron was made to play a pawn shop owner.
The Irishman: undeniable in its acting and ambition, Scorsese’s monster of a film features incredible supporting performances from Joe Pesci and Al Pacino. The final hour left me in a state of provocation and questioning.
Her Smell: Alex Ross Perry’s five vignettes on a rocker with a huge ego are some of the tensest minutes I’ve felt this year. Elisabeth Moss gives all of herself, and this film deserves more awards recognition. People will be watching this long after we’re gone.
The Peanut Butter Falcon: one of the most enjoyable times I had in a theater in the last few years. Shia LaBeouf and Zack Gottsagen are both splendid and boy oh boy did I leave with a big smile on my face.
10. Knives Out by Rian Johnson
Funny, quirky, and just plain smart, Rian Johnson’s whodunit gave me and entire audiences a reason to truly laugh at the movies. Incredible set design and fantastic performances abound to make Johnson’s follow-up to The Last Jedi a holiday favorite in 2019. It’s the perfect film to take a date to, to take your grandparents to, and even to take your kids to, making it an accessible murder mystery, three words rarely put together. There’s a reason we haven’t seen a good whodunit in recent years, and why Agatha Christie continues to be the gold standard: it’s difficult to write and and make a sensible one! Most of all, Johnson achieves a sense of realism regardless of its ridiculousness. It makes sense! Featuring a Daniel Craig performance for the ages including a doughnut scene that should be performed in monologue classes, Knives Out only gets better with time.
9. The Farewell by Lulu Wang
When I bought a ticket to see Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, I didn’t know much about it. I knew that Awkwafina was starring, and that someone’s grandma was sick. It became the emotional event of the year, and for those of us that have lost grandmas to cancer, a powerful love letter to these women that help mold us. Solidly acting with an incredible performance from grandma Zhao Shuzhen, Wang’s autobiographical work tears your heart open, filling it with compassion, care, and a family’s desire to make the right choices. The film completely wraps you in the arms of this family, and by the end of it, you feel like this decision is as much yours as theirs. You want to be at their big dinners. You want to be practicing Shuzhen’s yoga techniques. And you certainly want to be invited to every wedding moving forward. Thank you Lulu Wang for reminding me how much I love my my grandmas.
8. The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open by Kathleen Hepburn and Elle-Maija Tailfeathers
In 2019, one of the best pieces of filmmaking that Netflix released, and got lost in the shuffle, was Your Body Remembers When the World Broke Open, written and directed by Canadian women Kathleen Hepburn and Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers. Playing out in real time with Tailfeathers starring opposite fellow indigenous Canadian Violet Nelson, the film follows two women in the aftermath of an assault to Nelson. Tailfeathers happened to be walking by, and so the two experience the next 90 minutes together, figuring out the following course of action. Serious, moving, and real, the story works as any coincidental relationship and any situation in life would, with arduous difficulty in making important decisions. It deals with weighty themes like assault and abuse with a tender yet firm sense of reality, deciding to let you sit with these characters instead of rush with them. This film is one of the most important in 2019, and I personally urge you to seek it out.
7. Little Women by Greta Gerwig
Breathing fresh air into an adaptation we’ve seen plenty of times, Greta Gerwig continues to make solid films. She is one of our best directors currently working, and in my opinion, one of the best writers in Hollywood. She crafts this oft-told story in a gripping way, and the time you spend with the March sisters is a special treat. The subtlety in the performances sticks into your mind, with Florence Pugh and Timothee Chalamet stealing scenes. I’d watch Chalamet and Saoirse Ronan do any movie together, though. They have the ability to go down with the great pairings in history, and their constant excellence is tremendous. Gerwig toys with several themes in the film, but her intentionality to focus on wealth drives home the film. Ronan as Gerwig’s muse is one of the revelations of the decade.
6. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood by Quentin Tarantino
The warmest of Quentin Tarantino’s nine films, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood features the best stretch of filmmaking in 2019. As Margot Robbie travels through Westwood as Sharon Tate to see herself in a film, Leonardo DiCaprio performs scenes on a TV western set and Brad Pitt continues his “cool guy of 2019” campaign while dealing with the Manson family at Spahn Ranch. A sequence smack in the middle of the movie, these three actors each flash their brilliance in hilarious, sentimental, and enjoyable scenes that show just how far Tarantino has come as a filmmaker. It’s a section of the film that can be rewatched countless times, each time noticing a little bit more of the perfection. This film will be near the top come Oscar season and for good reason. Give Pitt an Oscar!
5. Uncut Gems by the Safdie Brothers
A couple of times each decade, Adam Sandler rises up from the depths of Netflix vacation to make a film worthy of critical acclaim. For many, Uncut Gems will be the first time they’ve seen Sandler in a serious role, and he sure is impressive in this one. Radiating all sorts of big energy, he gives a mania to this role as New York jeweler and gambler, somehow making this scummy criminal into a likable leading figure. Joining him is Kevin Garnett in the best performance by an NBA star since Ray Allen in He Got Game, Julia Fox as a newcomer people can’t stop talking about, and Lakeith Stanfield with an amount of chill that fits into this non-stop film by the Safdie brothers. A film that makes you anxious, excited, and overwhelmed all at once, Uncut Gems creates a world of insanity similar to Good Time with an incredible score to match it. And you learn a bit about gambling and the NBA scene in the early 2010s!
4. Parasite by Bong Joon-Ho
Bong Joon-Ho’sParasite handles themes of poverty, classism, family structures and values, love, murder, and revenge to name a few with a measure of grace only achieved by a filmmaker who has a clear vision. A shoe-in to be South Korea’s first-ever Oscar nomination, the film constantly keeps you guessing, and the best way to see it is with an open mind and a lack of knowledge regarding the plot and characters. Killer performances resonate in every scene and it’s clear-cut the most fascinating movie I saw in 2019. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch it immediately. Put it at the top of your list. The movie will make history, and deservedly so.
3. Portrait of a Lady on Fire by Céline Sciamma
A film bursting with love, Portrait of a Lady on Fire demands an audience. The well-matched leads give life to Sciamma’s simple screenplay and you have a desire to live in this beached world for much longer than the runtime. It truly is a gorgeous film, an ode to forbidden lesbian love and to the restorative power of relationships. The depth in which the film operates brings it to another level, and we should be happy this story exists in our shattered world. Something to note: instead of opting for over-the-shoulder shots in conversation and in focus of its characters, the cinematographer and Sciamma allow these women to fill up the screen. Each woman is the center of the screen in every situation, as though they’re talking directly to you, and this story is the all that we need to focus on, with nothing to distract us. If multiple characters are on screen, they even have them block one another, creating some truly beautiful moments. It’s a specific tactic that pays off big time, and these women fill the screen with poise, beauty, and a whole lot of love.
2. Marriage Story by Noah Baumbach
The best script of the year, Marriage Story finds Baumbach in top form, taking the snappy writing of Frances Ha and mashing it together with semi-autobiographical experiences. Adam Driver gives the performance of the year and for the most part, Scarlett Johansson matches his step for step. The supporting cast shines with Alan Alda and resident 2019 Monterey queen Laura Dern providing memorable moments. It picks you up only to crush you back down, wrestling with your heart and emotions, giving you time to think about all of the fights you’ve had in your own life. With a score and even some singing as supplement, Baumbach makes another movie that gives more than it takes, and provides us with more relatable characters in film. The best part of the movie, though, is that you relate to both of them.
1. The Last Black Man in San Francisco by Joe Talbot
One of the most gorgeous films I’ve ever witnessed, The Last Black Man in San Francisco gives us all the opportunity to witness what Joe Talbot and friend/collaborator/lead actor Jimmie Fails can accomplish with a bit of capital. The San Francisco natives made a film that breathes beauty and community, shifting within themes of gentrification and belonging and family. The culmination creates an accurate picture of the city on the bay in all of its frustration, wealth, hills, creativity, and glory. Led by a strong yet solemn lead performance by Fails, the film gives supporting actor Jonathan Majors a chance to shine, representing our common need to be accepted and loved by our community, or to even find a community we can call our own. The film should live on in Northern California as one of the best films to show the city of San Francisco as a character worth watching, and firmly establishes Talbot and Fails as two filmmakers with heartfelt intentions and tremendous abilities.
Something incredible happens in the middle of Rian Johnson’s new whodunit Knives Out. You think you know all of the twists and turns. Much has already been revealed. You’ve already heard Daniel Craig talk with an incredible Southern accent. But then, he starts chatting about doughnuts, holes, and doughnut holes.
The monologue lasts for about three minutes, but it remains the most fun I’ve had in a movie theater in 2019. Craig gives everything he has to play detective Benoit Blanc, the famed sleuth with a French name, a molasses accent, and a nose for the truth. Craig himself looks to be having a Logan Lucky amount of fun, another film featuring an accent from the Englishman. Just watch 30 seconds of this clip.
Pretty incredible, right? Now multiply that by a million and you’ll get Craig’s accent in Knives Out. Watching an actor who plays James Bond speak with such silly freedom and joy cannot be understated.
Craig’s counterparts join in on the fun, though. Johnson’s cast fills your heart with stars of varying degrees taking their familial roles seriously, regardless of the absurdity surrounding them. You can’t help but smile along with Craig, and you assume that Johnson is smiling behind the camera as well.
Knives Out is an oddity, though: a murder mystery that stays coherent until the final shot, a riotous one at that. Though Craig shines, Ana de Armas steals scenes, giving a warm and thoughtful performance throughout the film. The rest of the family, a solid Jamie Lee Curtis, a hilarious Toni Collette, a terrifying Michael Shannon, and a jaded Chris Evans fill in the gaps.
The cast reaches near perfection, and we have casting director Mary Vernieu to thank. Not enough casting directors get thanked in articles. So, Mary, this one’s for you. With nearly 400 credits to her name, Mary Vernieu was the casting director on 27 films and series this year, including HBO’s Euphoria, The Beach Bum, Dolemite Is My Name, and even John Wick 3: Parabellum. No doubt that she is one of the best in the business.
Quick aside: Craig’s accent most closely aligns with another comedic performance for the ages: the beloved but sometimes hated Andy Bernard of The Office.
To see Craig’s accent as well as this entire cast having a ball, I implore you to see Knives Out in theaters. If you’re in a somewhat full theater, the audience helps carry you along, providing ample laughters for you and everyone around you. You can bring your whole family, as Johnson’s film provides something for everyone. The movie itself is a family affair, and seeing it should be the same.
Watching this film felt like an experience. People showed up to the theater 15 minutes early to get a seat, everyone had popcorn, and there wasn’t a cellphone in sight. It enveloped me, my fellow moviegoers, and the entire theater in its enjoyable and intriguing mystery, a rare accomplishment.
The act of going to the movies should be fun. You need to leave happy that you spent two hours in that dark room, glad to have left the house and spent a bit of money. Knives Out checks each and every one of those boxes.
The most enjoyable double-feature of 2019 doesn’t feature any Martin Scorsese, Brad Pitt, or Adam Driver. These films likely won’t win any awards or even be nominated for any Oscars. These films trade mobsters and marriage for swords and salads. Sword of Trust followed by Brittany Runs a Marathon will bring you laughter, and four hours of pure joy.
These films star the top (and my favorite) comedic duo currently working in Hollywood: Jillian Bell and Michaela Watkins. In Sword of Trust, the duo joins Marc Maron for an exploration of conspiracy theorists and the Wild West of those who believe the South won the Civil War.
Bell and Watkins play a lesbian couple in possession of an old sword, one they are trying to pawn off for a large sum of cash. Maron plays the pawn shop owner, who is roped into the whole affair in pursuit of money himself. The whole film is absurd, and absolutely hilarious.
Bell and Watkins balance each other out as a couple in that film, with Bell being unknowing, a bit ditzy, with a confused look splattered onto her face. Watkins is the firmer of the two, doing the talking in high-pressure situations and taking control in steering conversations. They complement one another in every scene, and their banter-laced chemistry feels unrehearsed.
In Brittany Runs a Marathon, Bell fills the title role of couch-potato-turned-marathoner and Watkins plays her slightly older and motherly upstairs neighbor, a recent divorcee. Though the film is inherently less funny than Sword of Trust, it provides more inspiration and feelings of warmth, leaving you with a feeling that the world is a better place than it was two hours prior.
Again, Bell and Watkins act as opposites, though we find out they’re much more similar than we originally thought. Bell is carefree with a individualized resolve, while Watkins is bound to her children and her past, looking for friendship and support from those around her. Both actors continue to be funny, endearing, and understanding in each and every role they play, especially in these two films.
The key to the Bell-Watkins duo is in their conversations together. In every scene in which these women communicate, they speak like old friends who are catching up. They converse as though they’ve known one another for ages, yet could be meeting for the first time and enjoying one another’s company. They talk over each other in Sword yet listen intently in Brittany. They look to actually make each other laugh, and their genuine smiles warm up the screen.
Yes, they’re funny and their timing deserves applause, but the duo provides heartfelt moments in each film. The sincerity shines through and you’re left feeling happy that the duo exists at all. Though these films might not be the best films of the year, they certainly make for the most pleasant way you can spend four hours. These women are to thank.
Though both actors have been in Hollywood for quite a few years now, they are seeing more leading roles and deservedly so. Their established rapport shouldn’t be overlooked or understated, and if you see their names on a movie poster, you most likely won’t be disappointed with the film.
All of this might be speculation on my part, but from the looks of the video below, this friendship is lovely and we should finance any filmmaker who wants to put these two actors in a movie together.
You’re sitting on an airplane. A JetBlue airplane to be exact. The perfect airline when you don’t want to spend too much money, but you still would like the illusion of luxury. You’re flying from New York to Los Angeles or vice-versa. You forgot your book at your apartment and your Kindle just lost power. Your phone, laptop, and aforementioned Kindle chargers are in your checked baggage. You have six hours to kill.
You really only have one option in this scenario. Maybe it was your first option anyways. You turn on the in-flight entertainment system, stapled to the back of the seat in front of you. You adjust the brightness, because it might be a red-eye flight and you’re a little sleepy.
Like every other person on the plane in your situation, you start the search for the perfect in-flight movie. You jump from the different tabs, and if you’ve had a busy year, you hop onto the “New Releases” tab on the mini monitor.
For the sake of this ranking, we’re throwing documentaries out the window-side window. But, if we want to rank the docs on the JetBlue “New Releases” tab, this would be the list in terms of watchability:
Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am
The Panama Papers
Now, what’s the criteria for the best movie while watching on an airplane? For this, we are going to look at a few different factors.
How comfortable do you feel while watching the film? You don’t want to be watching something that will make your seat neighbors feel awkward, which makes you feel uncomfortable, which makes asking for them to move so you can go to the bathroom even more horrible. For example, Her is a fantastic film, but a horrible in-flight watch. The surrogate scene is the epitome of uncomfortability. You score this out of 5. Her would have received a 1/5.
How engaged are you during the film? No one wants to watch a boring film while on a flight. Flying, even though it’s an amazing technological achievement, are inherently boring. You’re watching movies out of necessity, simply because there’s nothing else to do. You want to be entertained. You score this out of 5 as well. For example, Fast Five would score a 5/5 in this category. It’s entertaining as hell.
If turbulence occurs, will this film distract you? Turbulence was awful, is awful, and will remain awful. You want a film that will distract you from that turbulence, not add to the nausea. You score this out of 5 as well. For example, a space movie like Ad Astra or Gravity or really any space movie would score 1/5 in this category, because you’d feel more nauseous if there was unexpected turbulence. Comedies score high in this category.
Will you feel like you adequately used your time by watching this movie? Basically, this is asking is the movie is good or not. A bad film is still a bad film, even if you’re on an airplane with nothing else to do. Score this out of 5.
There you have it. That’s the scoring system. The maximum number a film can receive is 20 and the minimum number a film can receive is 4.
Here are the 14 films:Annabelle Comes Home, Godzilla: King of Monsters, Late Night, Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, Plus One, Pokemon: Detective Pikachu, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Sword of Trust, The Art of Racing in the Rain, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, The Lion King, Ugly Dolls, X-Men: Dark Phoenix, Yesterday.
Movies Scoring 0-10: That Was The Longest Flight
We aren’t going to spend lots of time on these movies so let’s just run through them.
#14: Ugly Dolls — A bad movies with ugly animation and unfunny jokes. You want to be laughing, not cringing while on a flight. 5/20
#13: Annabelle Comes Home — You might already be scared because you’re on a plane, so why would you intentionally scare yourself more? 6/20
#12: The Art of Racing in the Rain — You either a) read the book and so you already know what’s going to happen or b) have not read the book and are watching a story narrated by a dog played by Kevin Costner. 8/20
#11: The Lion King — This live-action remake falls under the “I already know what’s going to happen” category which makes it much less engaging. It won’t leave you feeling like you spent your time on the flight wisely, making you wish you started your laptop. 10/20
Movies Scoring 11-15: Eh, I Survived My Flight
Let’s give these some scores on some categories, shall we?
#10: Spider-Man: Far From Home — 11/20
Comfortable: Very much so. No one will judge you for watching Tom Holland and Zendaya save the world, while Jake Gyllenhaal crushes his villainous role. Sort of a movie catered to teens, though. 4/5
Engaged: The film does a good job of keeping your attention. It has some laughs, some big set pieces, and some decent-sized stakes. You won’t be glued to the screen though, and you won’t mind taking a bathroom break in the middle. 3/5
Turbulence: This is a major problem. As Spider Man is swinging through the air, you are also metaphorically and physically bumping through the air. 1/5
Time: You won’t feel bad for watching it but you won’t go running to tell your friends. 3/5
#9: Godzilla: King of Monsters — 12/20
Comfortable: There have been so many Godzilla and King Kong movies that you really won’t be judged. Your neighbors could think you’re watching any one of them. They’ll understand. 4/5
Engaged: Somewhat. The huge action sequences will be great and the actors are giving far-too-committed performances. 3/5
Turbulence: Again, not great. If it’s during an action sequence, you’re in for a bad time. If it’s during one of the “let’s save the world” monologues, you’re safe. 2/5
Time: Just fun enough to watch that you won’t be regretting it. 3/5
#8: Pokemon: Detective Pikachu — 13/20
Comfortable: For the most part, yes. Will some people think you’re a little nerdy? Yes, but who cares. Will most people not care? Also, yes. 4/5
Engaged: During the time I was watching this film, the snack and drink carts came by. I never paused it. 2/5
Turbulence: Yes, almost the whole time. There’s a shocking amount of non-action in this film. Unless you’re watching the part where the ground starts moving, you’ll be more than fine. 4/5
Time: It’s a Pokemon world. We’re just all living in it. 3/5
#6: The Last Black Man in San Francisco — 14/20
Comfortable: Yes, yes, yes. It’s a fantastic film with high critical praise about gentrification and community and family and belonging. Fantastic. 5/5
Engaged: Unfortunately, if you’re tired, it might put you to sleep, as it’s a dialogue-heavy film. It lacks action and/or comedy to keep you awake. It might be one of the best films on the in-flight system but not for plane-watching. 2/5
Turbulence: You’ll feel about the same. It won’t help you tons or hurt you tons. 3/5
Time: It’s a super solid film with a beautiful score and gorgeous cinematography, what else can I say? You’ll wish you were in a theater. 4/5
Movies Scoring 15-20: Wait, That Flight Was So Short!
#5: Late Night — 15/20
Comfortable: Mindy Kaling is beloved in many circles of life, as The Office and The Mindy Project are highly watched, highly acclaimed shows. 4/5
Engaged: Not as engaging as you hope for, but still engaging enough. The story has some lulls, but keeps your attention for the most part. Kaling and Emma Thompson are quite lovely. 3/5
Turbulence: It will make you laugh and so you’ll feel better about the turbulence. You won’t feel like the situation is nearly as awful. 4/5
Time: A solid film with a solid premise with a solid cast with solid jokes. 4/5
#4: Plus One — 16/20
Comfortable: A rom-com pretty comfortable. And it’s all about weddings, which is a situation in at least 50% of all movies. 4/5
Engaged: Though this movie is largely enjoyable, you won’t be stuck in your seat, watching without distractions. You won’t rewind if your headphones fall out. 4/5
Turbulence: No action, all talk. You’ll (hopefully) laugh through the bumps. 5/5
Time: A truly inventive and heartfelt romantic comedy that makes you want to watch more romantic comedies. Enjoyed the hell out of it. 4/5
#3: Sword of Trust — 18/20
Comfortable: It just looks like any other comedy. If anything, people will ask you what you’re watching because truly no one has seen this movie. 5/5
Engaged: If you buy into the plotline, it’s an enjoyable movie with pace. You’ll laugh a ton and be invested in the story. Not lots of action but it’ll keep you eyes on the screen. 4/5
Turbulence: Again, you’ll be laughing. Wait what turbulence? 5/5
Time: You’ll feel like you found a gem of a film. You’ll tell your friends about it when you get off the flight. You might even use the in-flight Wifi to post on Twitter. It’s not the best film of the year, but it’s real good. 4/5
#2: Once Upon a Time In Hollywood — 18/20
Comfortable: This is possibly the most recognizable film on the list, outside of The Lion King or Spider Man. It has major star power in Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Margot Robbie. The only issue is the violence towards the end of the film. 4/5
Engaged: To me, this is the highest quality film available during your JetBlue flight. The actors give incredible performances, the cinematography explores different perspectives of Los Angeles, and the story grabs your attention. 5/5
Turbulence: If you were watching the last 20 minutes during turbulence, it’d be unfun. Everything else is more than ok. 4/5
Time: This film will be nominated for Best Picture, and millions of people watch the Oscars so you’ll feel like it’s time well spent. Also, the film is over two hours so you’ll have made a real dent in your flight time. 5/5
#1: Yesterday — 19/20 — THE BIG WINNER
Comfortable: With friendly faces like Ed Sheeran, James Corden, and Kate McKinnon in the mix, people will know you’re watching actors they also enjoy. 5/5
Engaged: It’s just not the greatest film overall. The seemingly endless amount of Beatles songs will keep you watching, though. It has enough comedy, enough romance, and enough goodness. Himesh Patel offers a fantastic performance. 4/5
Turbulence: Nothing gets you through Turbulence like the music of the Beatles. 5/5
Time: You’ll feel much happier after watching the film and that is the greatest gift an in-flight movie can give you. For a bit, you might even forget you’re flying. You’re just along for the ride. It’s the perfect in-flight movie. 5/5
Shockingly, JetBlue is not yet a sponsor of Peach Fuzz Critic. What’s your go-to in-flight movie?
Some original Peach Fuzz content will be coming this week, I promise. Also, a few longer interviews and some interesting features on the various publications are in the works. In the meantime, I’ve been writing for a few different sites as always.
For Cinema Sentries, I wrote about Ecuador’s Oscar submission for International feature La Mala Noche, the documentary about the first African-American NHL player Willie, and the animated feature about Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel’s style and experiences inBuñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles.
I saw Joe Talbot’s directorial debut The Last Black Man in San Francisco about three months ago. It was a Sundance award-winner with rave reviews, an A24 darling, and high on my list of 2019 movies I needed to watch on the big screen. I saw it on opening weekend, which was a limited release to seven theaters. My theater was filled, not packed. If it was a salad, we amounted to the croutons, not the lettuce.
What transpired over the course of the next 121 minutes left me speechless. There are several reasons a movie can transfix you. The acting can be spectacular. The cinematography can be sweeping and beautiful, finding angles you thought impossible. The story can resonate with depth that didn’t previously reside within your body. Or you can see art in a way you haven’t seen before. Talbot’s film accomplished all the above.
The 2-hour affair chronicles the futile attempts of Jimmie Fails, played by Talbot’s childhood friend and co-writer, the real-life Jimmie Fails. Both men grew up in San Francisco, soaking up the Bay Area’s gentrification even when they wished the fog would roll over the sunshine. The story is their collected experiences: their love towards a hometown and their uncertainty towards its unstoppable changes. It’s one of the most gorgeous pieces of art I’ve ever seen, and the shot of Fails dropping leaves onto Mont remains etched into my brain. Fails’ singular mission, though, unfolds like clothes thrown into the wash, locked, messy, and jumbled together with a speed that doesn’t allow your eyes to adjust.
Fails and his best friend Mont, played or rather achieved by Jonathan Majors, are in a movie-long tug-of-war to take back Fails’ childhood home, the one he believes was built by his grandfather, a Victorian mishmash of beauty in the Mission District of San Francisco. Fails’ effectiveness can’t be understated, as every scene has the feeling of a home-video, watched by an intrusive audience. There’s a power in telling your own story, a command that is rarely on display and hardly considered for opportunity.
Currently, the film festival season is in full swing. Toronto, Venice and Telluride, along with NYFF later this month, have been vehicles for new films to garner widespread praise, gravitate performances to create Oscar-buzz, and shift the discussion to a select few directors and stories that the film community have deemed important. Last Black Man has been put in the back of the pantry, and to me, that’s a problem.
The relevance of these characters is not forced, but given to the audience. The effect of change emanated from this portrait of a hometown continues to cause me to stop on busy streets in New York City, just to remember to look at what surrounds me. I watched this film from a different state than my hometown, from a different state than my family and friends. I grew up driving up the coast to San Francisco, spending weekends there through college, appreciating the city more with each visit. It’s a painstaking painting of a city that’s been in flux for the entire 21st century.
Fails and Talbot spent close to a decade making this film. Their journey as filmmakers is as worthy of praise as their finished product. Every interview they give is inspiring for those that don’t have it all figured out. They’ve certainly become indie idols for young people across the country, especially those in the Bay Area.
I’ve never watched a film that encapsulates loss like Last Black Man. As Jimmie’s frustrations burst and fester, the realization of pain and loss we’ve encountered grows stronger in each of us. It’s unshakable and for me, undeniable. It captures the emotion and realization we normally can’t put into words: when you don’t recognize your hometown, you don’t remember the roads, and your childhood home, full of the memories you made, belongs to another. The city, his home, has changed without Jimmie Fails. We’ve all been outgrown in our lives, unable to stop natural forces, unable to understand what went wrong, and desperately reaching to conjure up the past.
Jonathan Majors, as the feeble yet loving Montgomery Allen, deserves words of praise at this point. He deserved it much higher in article. Majors is remarkable, and is worthy, though not likely to be recognized, of a Best Supporting Actor nod by the Academy. His presence almost steals the movie from Fails, and it feels to be his hometown as well. He doesn’t fit in, either, and that’s what drew me to him. While Fails shows us what happens when you don’t fit into your city, Majors shows us, with immeasurable grace and ingenuity, what happens when you don’t fit into your community.
The supporting cast, Danny Glover particularly, are worthwhile in contributing to the mood of the film. An ensemble, with this many newcomers, with this talent is a feat in casting, directing, and pure opportunity. The dialogue is smart and a couple of lines are sure to be remembered by all who see the film. The chief of these being said by Fails to two griping (and new) San Francisco residents. “You can’t hate something if you didn’t love it first.” Truer words are sparsely spoken without an element of insincerity.
As big budget films with big budget actors shove into your timelines and into the larger public sphere, don’t forget about Talbot’s tale of loss. Don’t forget about Fails’ and Major’s human performances. And certainly don’t forget the way The Last Black Man in San Francisco made you feel. It’s one of the warmest love letters written this century. It will and should last longer than the rest.