by Charles Kirkland, Jr.
It’s the end of another wonderful year of cinema. There have been excellent animated features and comedies and romantic dramas. Eddie Murphy returned to the big screen (and the small one too). There were two Disney saga conclusions with the Mouse House having no less than 23 movies scheduled for release next year. DC finally hit its stride and is heading toward a hopeful future, even if you don’t count The Batman. So, in honor of the year’s finest, I take a step back and recap the absolute best cinematic releases of 2019.
10. Knives Out
Chocked full of stars, this quirky, entertaining whodunnit was everything that Murder On The Orient Express tried to be. Red herrings galore, this film had more twists and turns than the best of roller coasters. Directed by Rian Johnson (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) and starring Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield, Christopher Plummer and Katherine Langford in a tale about the investigation of the death of the family patriarch. Oh, the things one does for money!
9. A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood
Believe it or not, a Christian family film lurks beneath this excellently developed screenplay about forgiveness, reconciliation, and love. Everybody knows this as Mr. Rogers move but (surprise!) the movie is actually about reporter Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) and how Rogers (Tom Hanks) gets his to come to grips with his family.
It’s hard to conceive that two people can win Academy Awards for playing a villain, even one as dastardly as The Joker but Joaquin Phoenix transforms himself into the character and allows the audience to be, dare I say, sympathetic to the factors that drove him to be who he is. Todd Phillips, of Hangover fame, directs. Phoenix slays.
7. Jojo Rabbit
The idea of a Nazi romantic-comedy seems to be all kinds of wrong on the surface. Yet Taika Waititi’s tongue firmly in cheek performance as Jojo’s Adolf Hitler consciousness is tone perfect and Roman Griffin Davis is sublime as the little Nazi boy who is forced to confront misconceptions that surround him when he comes across (and falls in love with) Thomasin McKenzie’s Elsa, a Jew girl in hiding. Waititi also directs. Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Alfie Allen, Stephen Merchant, and Rebel Wilson round out the cast.
6. A Hidden Life
The perfect companion to Jojo Rabbit, Terrence Malick’s masterpiece tells the tale of Franz Jagerstatter, an Austrian farmer who became a conscientious objector to the Nazi regime during World War II. Filled with beauty and love, Malick is at his best in visually delivering the story of the plight of a man whose convictions caused the Catholic church to beatify him.
5. The Two Popes
A pensive and thought-provoking telling of the discussions between the conservative Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins) and his liberal successor Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce) that led to Benedict’s resignation and Francis’ ascension. Andrew McCarten delivers this latest Oscar-caliber screenplay that should have Pryce and his script in award contention.
4. Les Miserables
Although inspired by a quote from Victor Hugo, this is not a retelling of the famous play that came to the screen recently. This is the story of an unjust police action against a group of children and the desire for retribution. A raw and intense emotional journey, director Ladj Ly explodes onto the scene with his directorial debut about race, racial relations, and justice. In French with subtitles.
A family vacation goes horribly wrong as the family is confronted with the worst versions of themselves. Jordan’s Peele’s latest dark vision stars Lupita Nyong’o in a dual performance that is chilling. A performance that is truly deserving of recognition. Peele succeeds again in a movie, that while billed as a horror, touches our fears and makes us say “there but for the grace of God.” Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, Shahadi Wright Joseph, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II star.
During the first World War, two privates are tasked with making a journey through enemy territory to warn a battalion from walking into a trap. The most incredible thing about this one hour and fifty-nine-minute film is that it is all done in one long continuous shot. Sam Mendes (Skyfall) directs this shining example of filmmaking that has inspired a competition of home-made, one-shot movies. One must marvel, how did he pull it off?
Korean film auteur, Bong Joon-Ho (Snowpiercer) proves that he is a master of the visual arts as he writes and directs this film about how one family leaches onto another in order to survive. If you are experienced with the films of Joon-Ho, you know that nothing is as it seems and nothing stays the same. If not, be prepared for a 180-degree turn in story and visuals that are eye-popping and some that are completely disgusting and nothing forgettable. It’s not a horror film any more than Us is but it does pack a powerful punch as it tackles the themes of class and privilege. In Korean with subtitles.
The Irishman – Just because you put Martin Scorcese together with Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci does not mean you can make a three-plus hour-long sequel to Good Fellas and say it’s great. Sorry.
Marriage Story – This one just missed the list but it’s Kramer vs. Kramer for a new generation. Seen it before. Moral of the story, communication is the key.
The Last Black Man In San Francisco – Another close one. Johnathan Majors is excellent in this piece about gentrification in the Bay area. Beautiful cinematography but the story is just good, not strong.
The Farewell – Could I have three foreign-language films in my top 10? I probably should have. Awkwafina is fantastic, coming off of her screen stealing performance in last year’s Crazy Rich Asians. This comedian is a star in the making in this gorgeous, culture-clash tale about family, loss, and coping.