Top 10 Films of 2019

Top 10 Films of 2019

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.

Honorable Mentions

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 SmellAlex 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

Top 10 Films of 2019

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

Top 10 Films of 2019

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

Top 10 Films of 2019

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

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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

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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

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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 GameJulia 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

Top 10 Films of 2019

Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite 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

Top 10 Films of 2019

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

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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

Top 10 Films of 2019

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.

A ranking of the JetBlue in-flight entertainment ‘New Releases’

A Ranking Of The JetBlue In-Flight Entertainment New Releases Tab

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:

  1. Amazing Grace
  2. Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am
  3. Apollo 11
  4. Meeting Gorbachev
  5. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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. 

A Ranking Of The JetBlue In-Flight Entertainment New Releases Tab

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

A Ranking Of The JetBlue In-Flight Entertainment New Releases Tab

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

 

A Ranking Of The JetBlue In-Flight Entertainment New Releases Tab

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

A Ranking Of The JetBlue In-Flight Entertainment New Releases Tab

#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?

We shouldn’t forget about ‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’

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.

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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.

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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.

It certainly has the heart.

★★★★