2019 was a monumental year for movies. Here are a few runners up that merited highlighting.
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”
“El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie”
- Pain and Glory
Pedro Almodovar is a name that is not always mentioned in the list of great filmmakers – and yet the comparison is fair. One of the great, subversive filmmakers of the past 30 years, his “Pain and Glory” is one of the greatest films of his career. While Almodovar loves his melodrama, “Glory” has a feeling of quiet that is new, but not wholly unsurprising. The control he has over every frame of this film is impeccable. Antonio Banderas does career-best work in the lead – a crescendo of 30 years of collaboration. This is a film with a tinge of sadness, the story of a man in pain who is attempting to understand the source and his own psychology.
“That stripper movie starring Jennifer Lopez, Cardi B and Lizzo was not just good, but great” is still the most surprisingly true statement of the year. “Hustlers” is perfectly paced, with excellent acting and a fierce sense of nuance and energy. It is easy to imagine a version of this movie that flatly portrays the women committing these crimes, demonizing them and implying that they turned to crime because they were sex workers, and that’s just what sex workers do. However, director Lorene Scafaria has made a great film that understands the sociology and desires of its characters, and that plays on the tropes of the crime genre. Scafaria utilizes what we know but plays it in ways that only a female director’s perspective could allow, which is, in and of itself, the most empowering aspect of the movie.
And Cardi B and Lizzo are perfectly cast—the movie doesn’t necessarily prove that they could be in every movie, but they should absolutely be in “Hustlers.”
The most recent best picture winner has been equitably assessed. This is a film where the craft is clearly felt, everything from the direction, to the acting, to the pacing is perfect. All of these characters are rich and delightful even when they go to dark and disturbing places—“Parasite” is one of those movies where you have to think to find a favorite performance. “Parasite” is also a film that should be shown to people who do not like foreign movies, as its accessibility is one of its strongest elements, and its accessibility is born from its lack of pretension. “Parasite” demands an immediate re-watch and is the greatest film of director Bong-Joon Ho’s oeuvre.
- The Nightingale
“Babadook” director Jennifer Kent has created a movie that is many things and flawless in its own way, but also decidedly an acquired taste that will just flat out be too much for some people. The movie has many frank, blunt depictions of sexual assault and violence – and its never ‘cinematic.’ The movie is structured like a rape-revenge film, within a period piece, within a buddy movie. While the terrible men face their comeuppance, there is never a sense that the viewer is supposed to relish the prospect of more violence.
“The Nightingale” is about so many things and is about them so fiercely and vociferously. It is about colonialism, trauma, masculinity and the intersection of power structures and how they collaborate with one another.
Ari Aster’s second film shares a lot of DNA with his “Hereditary,” but with a lot more pain and intimacy behind it. The film is a hurricane, rocking its audience emotionally and declining to give any easy answers. Anchored by a great performance from Florence Pugh – the greatest of 2019, I say – “Midsommar” is enrapturing, heartbreaking, beautiful and masterful. Movies are a personal medium, and Aster’s second and arguably greatest film is what stands out among all others.