What I Watched in 2019: Movies
I am not a critic but love movies and with my travel and my wife’s shared interest, we see a lot. Here is my take on Oscars and the films I really enjoyed this year. My TV and Streaming list is here.
My Oscar Picks
I think the best film of 2019 was Parasite. Surprising and relevant film about class in South Korea. Each twist was shocking and the sum of the film lingered with me as I processed and made sense of it. Very affecting.
My runner up would be Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. I don’t generally like Tarantino and his gory violence, but the way he evoked an era was great and the performances were really great too.
My other runner up is The Last Black Man in San Francisco. I found it a little long, but beautiful. The friendship at the center made me care so much, while the explorations of home, family, friendship, gentrification, displacement, race, gender, art, and violence were somehow all touched on with nuance.
I would give Adam Driver best actor for Marriage Story and Lupita Nyong’o best actress for Us (not nominated). Cynthia Erivo as Harriett is my pick among nominees. Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time) and Jamie Foxx (Just Mercy, not nominated) were great Supporting Actor nominees. Laura Dern was great in her supporting role in Marriage Story and Scarlett Johansson was even better in Jojo Rabbit than in Marriage Story. I wish Little Women would have offered a best director nod to Greta Gerwig and think Mendes (1917) should get it.
I still have some films to see from 2019 including the French film Les Miserables, Dark Waters, Joker, Judy, and I’m sure others. I can’t believe Booksmart did not kill at the box office. And where is Amazing Grace for best documentary? The Atlantics were overlooked in international films.
The other films I enjoyed to varying degrees.
1917: I thought the story and the way it was filmed and journeyed through the carnage of WW1 was innovative and compelling. I can see why Sam Mendes won Golden Globe for directing.
Amazing Grace. Aretha Frankilin live in 1972 recording a gospel album in a church wiuth the congregation and special guests. She shows why she was the queen, while the choir director Alexander Hamilton should get a best supporting actor nod.
American Factory: A documentary that was also incredibly relevant in a story about globalism, Chinese capitalism, labor rights, culture, and the desperation politics of bringing jobs to a community.
The Atlantics: A love story and a ghost story and a story about worker exploitation and migration in Muslim Senegal. I felt it was one kind of film and then another and another.
Avengers End Game. I thought it wrapped the series up well. Great emotion, humor, action, and humanity at the center of the characters.
Book Smart: Fresh take on the high school coming of age that made me laugh out loud and blush. Really well done.
Dolemite is My Name: Great Eddie Murphy character and performance in a story about ambition and perseverance.
The Edge of Democracy. This documentary made the American impeachment process look tame and shed light on how conservatives wrestled power from progressives in Brazil.
The Farewell. I enjoyed the story and thought Awkwafina’s performance was quite good and the story about how families and cultures approach pain and death was made more poignant by the end scene of the actual grandmother.
Harriett: Loved Cynthia Erivo more than that movie overall. They had a lot of story to condense and Cynthia captured courage and determination well.
The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley. My bullshit meter went dinging within minutes and I found this a sad commentary on how privilege works in business and philanthropy and the trust placed in those with the right credentials and connections.
The Irishman. I do need to watch it again. I was surprised how much of this was real. I don’t know that the de-aging worked especially with DeNiro’s physical acting. But DeNiro, Pesci, Pacino, and Keitel were great and Scorsese is a master at storytelling.
Jojo Rabbit. I was hesitant from the ads that had a “Springtime for Hitler” feel, but thought it was incredible he pulled this off. A film about how hate breeds and its absurdity.
Just Mercy. Really well done, and the performances by Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx were great. Saw it in Montgomery which made it even more poignant.
Knives Out. Just great entertainment with great twists and an undercurrent critique of MAGA immigration politics.
Little Women. Found it very entertaining, well acted, well paced, and a fresh take on an ol story.
Marriage Story: Powerful story about love, marriage, compromise, resentment, and how hard the process of divorce can be for everyone.
Midsommar. This will be a classic. I have a feeling it will be part of popular culture for a long time. I can’t believe how many “horror” films I’ve watched in recent years. She found her family.
Motherless Brooklyn: I liked the deterctive noir frame on the actual power, corruption, and racism of Robert Moses’ urban planning and development of NYC.
Pain and Glory: Almdovar and Banderas. There was a bit of WTF to Banderas’s character’s journey, but an artist reconciling with his past to find creative spark again was cool.
Queen and Slim: Powerful and intense Bonnie and Clyde adventure rooted in police brutality. The audience was stunned silent and in some cases it triggered by the ending – one man got up walked out and yelled “This is bullshit.”
Rolling Thunder Review: A Bob Dylan Story. Martin Scorsese takes Bob Dylan’s quote “You can’t trust anyone who is not wearing a mask” on the nose and creates a documentary that blends reality and fiction seamlessly to maintain Bob’s mystery. And the performances are so great.
Two Popes: Interesting if optimistic story (not all true) about the transition of the popes with great acting by Pryce and Hopkins.
Us. Jordan Peele uses horror to provoke thinking again. Lupita Nyong’o should have been nominated for best actress.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor: This was really more about Matthew Rys’ character than Tom Hanks, but the empathy and grace of Rogers is an inspiration we are now appreciating more than when he was among us.