Monday, December 16, 2019

The 123456789
10 Best Films Of 2019

Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW               
ay, December 16, 2019

Not much to say--except that these films speak to me, and spoke to me in 2019--and speak for themselves.

Aretha Franklin in 1972 during her live recording of the album "Amazing Grace" in the same-titled documentary . Neon

(U.S. film distributor: Neon)

One of the most euphoric and divine experiences I've ever had in a cinema.  This previously unreleased and abandoned television experience of Aretha Franklin's two-night performance in Watts, Southern California at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in 1972 for her live album was recovered, converted and polished into a spectacle that hit me deep in the heart and filled me with joy, spirit and wonder.  Ms. Franklin was a pure technician, musician and artist, authoring her craft not only with talent but skill, intelligence, fulsome dedication and commitment.  What a master conductor and arranger she was, too.  Unforgettable on the big screen and in life, as the Queen Of Soul will always be.  Directed by Sydney Pollack.

9.    GLORIA BELL   (A24)

Sebastian Lelio directs and co-writes (with Alice Johnson Boher) this film based on his own 2013 film "Gloria" about a middle-aged woman who encounters life after divorce and tries to find her place in it as she seeks a new start.  A thoroughly authentic story that evokes mature adult, realistic 1970s independent film.  Julianne Moore does her best work on film since "Safe".  Highly effective cinematography by Natasha Braier.

Julianne Moore in the title role in "Gloria Bell", directed by Sebastian Lelio. A24

8.   1917  (Universal Pictures)

Based in part on true events Sam Mendes expertly directs a film that is almost entirely one unbroken shot that represents a chasm or tunnel into the soul of war and man that hasn't been put on screen since "Saving Private Ryan".  Only this film, simpler in some ways but no less layered, is better.  George McKay is excellent in a lead role but the real star of 1917 is Roger Deakins, whose cinematography is off the charts superb.  Dennis Gassner's production design is astounding.  First-class filmmaking.

George McKay in the film "1917", directed by Sam Mendes. Universal

Lupita Nyong'o, who plays two roles in Jordan Peele's "Us", plays Red here. Universal

7.     US   
(Universal Pictures)

A harrowing psychological experience, Jordan Peele's US jarred me into reality with its powerful social commentary about materialism, identity, selfishness, duality and contradictions.  Peele constructs a complex and indicting movie that operates as a satire about the United States and the people living in it, hence the title.  A marvelous and disturbing film grounded in brilliant acting by Lupita Nyong'o, Evan Alex and Madison Curry.  Peele's screenplay is also a gem.

Antonio Banderas and Cecilia Roth in Pedro Almodovar's "Pain And Glory" (Dolor y Gloria). Sony Pictures Classics

6.    PAIN AND GLORY  (Sony Classics)

A film director comes to terms with his own mortality and the highs and lows of his life as he recalls them.  Pedro Almodovar's very personal drama teems with love, sorrow, emotion and the admiration of loves and movies.  "Pain And Glory" ("Dolor y Gloria") is a showcase for Antonio Banderas, here with his best work on film.  Mr. Almodovar's screenplay is crisp, biting, wistful and full of double entendres.  Adorned with color, beauty and a fine supporting turn by Penelope Cruz, and the ever-reliable score of the great Alberto Iglesias.



Jimmie Fails and Jonathan Majors in Joe Talbot's "The Last Black Man In San Francisco". A24

This film is about love and male relationships in San Francisco of a bygone era, the bonds between heterosexual Black men in a San Francisco that has left Black people and numerous other people behind in a shifting era of gentrification, technology and rapid transplanting.  What Joe Talbot does, in his feature film directing debut, is create a tapestry of the soul of San Francisco, a golden era of the past into a coldly indifferent present.  Mr. Talbot and childhood friend Jimmie Fails, whose story this is (he stars as well), combine to make this film a warm, elegant paradise of pain, joy and loss.  Terrific acting by Jonathan Majors and Rob Morgan.

4.    QUEEN & SLIM    (Universal Pictures)

Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya in "Queen & Slim", directed by Melina Matsoukas. Universal

Melina Matsoukas makes a triumphant feature film directing debut with a superb script from Lena Waithe about Black love being boxed in from all sides in a racist society.  Claustrophobic, pulsating and suspenseful, Matsoukas pushes every scene with urgency, complexity, conundrums and tension in a sensationally brilliant directing effort.  Jodie Turner-Smith in her feature film acting debut in a lead role is staggering as the Queen in the film's title.  Daniel Kaluuya ("Get Out") is also notable here in a film that is about choices.  Shot wonderfully by cinematographer Tat Radcliffe.

3.  THE IRISHMAN  (Netflix)

Robert De Niro in Martin Scorsese's "The Irishman". Netflix

Thelma Schoonmaker is the arguably the biggest reason for the excellence of "The Irishman".  Granted, there's the fine directing by Martin Scorsese (only "Goodfellas" is better than this latest), the greatness of Joe Pesci in a supporting role, and the all around bravura acting from Anna Paquin, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and the entire cast.  But "The Irishman", even at three hours and 29 minutes, is an editor's film.  Ms. Schoonmaker engineers the performances and achieves a heartbeat, a language amidst silences, thoughts and nods.  Editing defines this film, and is chiefly why Mr. Scorsese's "Irishman" is so good and eminently rewatchable.

2.  PARASITE   (Neon)

Choi Woo Shik, Song Kang Ho, Jeong Eun Lee and Park So Dam in "Parasite", directed by Bong Joon Ho. Neon

Orchestrated with complete confidence and authority by Boon Jong Ho, "Parasite" represents a society of haves and have nots in South Korea in such a devastating and insidious way.  One of the great appreciations of this fine satire is its ability to entertain and unsettle at the same time, while remaining rigorously disciplined to tell a second story which is at the heart of this well-written, well-made effort.  The production design by Lee Hau-Jun is spellbinding.


    (Sony Pictures)

Margot Robbie in Quentin Tarantino's "Once Upon A Time In Hollywood". Sony Pictures

Quentin Tarantino is problematic in several ways (his overruling of Uma Thurman, who did not want to drive a car led to her severe spinal injuries on the "Kill Bill" set; the ties to Harvey Weinstein and denials of knowledge of the latter's assaults and predatory violence.)  The misogyny in his films including this one troubles me and I still to this day wrestle with it, and in some respects with why I found this film to be so brilliant. 

Even so, "Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood" is the best film of the year and the best Mr. Tarantino has ever directed and written.  Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, in his finest work to date, "Hollywood" is about many things: degrees of masculinity, male violence against women, male bonding and the moviemaking process in an insular 1969 Tinseltown sealed off from a turbulent America.  Fueled by a live-wire script, a great soundtrack and excellent detail and production design by Barbara Ling, "Hollywood" is an endlessly entertaining, deeply-layered experience that tells a larger truth about Hollywood, America and mythmaking.

Also great in 2019: "Waves", "Clemency", "The Farewell", "Toni Morrison: The Pieces That I Am", "Last Christmas", "Dark Waters", "Uncut Gems", "Bombshell", "Where's My Roy Cohn?", "The Souvenir", "Mike Wallace Is Here", "Captain Marvel"

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