Hollywood? You there?
2019 was a relatively mediocre year for Hollywood. While this did lead to the unexpected rise of Parasite, ultimately becoming the first film not in the English language to win Best Picture at the Oscars, (still in shock, by the way) most studio tentpole films came and went with hardly a ripple in our cultural consciousness. That said, there were plenty of indie films that stole my heart, as well as several amazing international films. (My top 10 list could easily be comprised of nothing but international films this year and I honestly wouldn't lose any sleep over it.) So, without any further ado, let's talk about the best (and worst) cinema 2019 had to offer!
The Best Trailers of 2019
Any trailer that forks out the big bucks and uses one of the greatest songs of all time in it is bound to get on this list. Ironic that a shamelessly Americana film uses a British rock song in their trailer, but hey. It's "Gimmie Shelter." I ain't complaining.
In my opinion, this will almost certainly be the most influential trailer of 2019, as it debuted a new, modernistic way to introduce text in a trailer. I expect to see a lot more of this style pop up in the coming months and years.
You know this film is going to pop up a lot in this recap. One of the best American films of the year also happened to have one of the best trailers of the year. Then again, it's helpful when you can use literally *all* of the Elton John music, especially "Tiny Dancer."
I could watch the first 35 seconds of this trailer on repeat all day. From that hilarious opening pep talk, to the introduction of "Boys" by Lizzo, this incredibly funny trailer is surpassed only by the film that it is teasing.
There's a certain.... power to this trailer. I don't know if it's the driving music from The Weeknd underneath it, or the display of Adam Sandler's chaotically driven performance, (which made my Annual Actor's Awards, which you can check out here) but I've always been drawn to the finesse of this trailer. Which is why it's my favorite from 2019.
My Favorite Movie Moments
1917 - First Wave
Forgive the hilariously poor quality of that video, but the tentpole sequence of 1917 absolutely deserves a spot on this list. A sequence the filmmakers only had 5 chances to get right, with a powerfully unscripted moment to boot, (he wasn't supposed to run into anyone during this sequence) this gargantuan moment caps off the technical masterpiece that is 1917.
Marriage Story - Argument
Love this scene. The steady tempo of it is impeccable. You know where it's headed, yet it's so harrowing to watch unfold. Every moment more emotional than the last, ultimately resulting in a heinous, emotionally driven tirade from Charlie. (Adam Driver) Definitely the most emotionally charged moment of 2019.
Parasite - Belt of Faith
There are so many incredible moments in this film, it's hard to pick just one. But this montage, about 40 minutes in, is the visual manifestation of the very best filmmaking Bong Joon Ho has to offer. It's a mesmeric sequence, almost 5 minutes on the dot, with a level of control that would make Hitchcock envious. Watch that scene, and then check out this brilliant video essay dissecting it.
Rocketman - Saturday Night's Alright (for Fighting)
I love (almost) all of the numbers from Rocketman, but if I had to pick just one, I'd go with "Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting)" because of, what else? The filmmaking. Director Dexter Fletcher and co. truly outdo themselves in this sequence, crafting a sensational number that feels like a single, uncut shot. The amount of choreography in this sequence is unbelievable, Taron's movement throughout the scene is so rhythmic, it leads to an adrenaline-inducing crescendo with an amazing crane shot, and all in all I've watched this more than any other sequence in film from 2019. Masterful.
That said, I have to give "Honky Cat" a shoutout too because its open celebration of Elton's sexuality is better than ANYTHING out of Bohemian Rhapsody. Just saying.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire - Bonfire
That said, there wasn't a world where Portrait of a Lady on Fire wouldn't top this list, and this titanic moment leads to one of the most visually stunning shots I have ever seen in a film. It's also coupled with a brilliant song, written by the director, (Céline Sciamma, what can't she do?) and is the easy highlight of my number 1 film of 2019. (Spoiler alert)
The Best Films No One Saw
Note: All films on this list grossed under $20mil domestically.
The Peanut Butter Falcon
Criminally underappreciated and overlooked by the Academy this Oscar season because of another film you'll soon see on this list, The Peanut Butter Falcon was a charming buddy film with a pair of breakout performances.
One of the more groundbreaking films to come out of 2019, The Farewell shines light on a culture the west hardly ever sees, from the east's perspective, (!) centered around a female protagonist who also happens to be Awkwafina. What's not to like?
From the opening moment of The Lighthouse, I was hooked. Stunning visuals, two amazing performances, and a truly bizarre brand of psychological horror make this one of the wildest rides 2019 had to offer.
A cathartic film showcasing the power of compassion and forgiveness, Honey Boy was easily 2019's most underappreciated film, highlighted by a therapeutic performance from its powerful lead, Shia LaBeouf.
The Worst Films of 2019
Pet Sematary is exactly what happens when you try and capitalize on the recent success of Stephen King remakes. A lifeless, soulless husk of a film who's budget would've been better spent on just about anything else. Just..... stop. Please.
Ok. I can't hold back any more, I need to rant. This movie..... broke me. It's from Hirokazu Kore-eda, the man who is responsible for making Shoplifters, one of the most influential films for yours truly of recent memory, and after watching his unprecedented success of that film he said, ya. Let's make the antithesis of that. Why not? NO. This film is chaotic and unorganized, and it moves from scene to scene with little to no purpose. Sure, it has some good performances, but it centers around a completely unidentifiable group of people you have little to no compassion for. It's ridiculous and borderline criminal that this is Kore-eda's follow up to Shoplifters. (Takes a deep breath.)
You knew this was going to make the list. The inexplicable, traumatic, hilariously awful adaption of Cats that nobody asked for, this dumpster fire of a musical is already heading to the realm of cult hit. No amount of digital fur technology is saving this....
The Lion King
The stand stand-in for all three of the TERRIBLE Disney live-action remakes we got last year, The Lion King delivered a lazy, nearly shot-for-shot remake of its 1994 counterpart that simply replaces animation with CGI, while doing nothing more than giving new voices to the characters. (Wait, they didn't even do that? Sigh.) And, how much did it gross? Over a billion dollars? No way. Expect more from the movies you go see, people!
The Best Films of 2019
A brilliant thesis of the chaos of the Safdie brothers filmmaking style, Uncut Gems is a wild, engrossing ride from start to finish, helmmed by an incredible performance from its lead.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
An intimate story of compassion, forgiveness, and love, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a touching film about one of our culture's best figures. Also, Tom Hanks is amazing and we don't deserve him.
Greta Gerwig's interpretation of Louisa May Alcott's classic Little Women offered a new and fresh take on the timeless novel. One of the best character driven stories of 2019, Little Women's classic story is applicable and relevant to all.
Lorene Scafaria's Hustlers was the film we needed in 2019, a badass feminine power story told in a genuine, heartfelt way. J-Lo's incredible power and gravitas is manifested in one of the performances of the year, well worth a watch for this alone.
Noah Baumbach's semi-autobiographical tale of separation and divorce is a genuinely relatable and therapeutic story of forgiveness and love and persevering through it all.
Rocketman is a fun, touching, heartfelt celebration of one of the music industry's biggest icons. Taron Edgerton delivers a vulnerable performance of the legendary musician in my favorite American film of 2019.
This amazing Polish film stands at the intersection of faith and forgiveness. It's a moving story that highlights the hypocrisies of institutions while focusing on the simple power faith has among us. As thought-provoking as it is touching.
Bong Joon Ho's groundbreaking film is arguably the most approachable foreign film ever made: a widely applicable tale of class structure, personal gain, climate change, and just about everything else imaginable. Seriously: go see it, go in blind, and let Bong Joon Ho take you for a ride.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Director Céline Sciamma crafted a visual and narrative masterpiece that has resonated with me long after I first saw it at Cannes. A mesmerizing story of true love's attempted survival in an oppressive society, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is equal parts stunning and heartbreaking, and easily my strongest recommendation of 2019 cinema.
Thank you so much for reading! Hope you enjoyed my recap of the very best (and worst) 2019 cinema had to offer. As I look forward to 2020, I'm gleefully reminded that I will be able to enjoy a film adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda's In the Heights, and I am already VERY excited. Let's go!
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They did it! They actually did it!
Ah! Did that really happen? It's been over 24 hours since Parasite stunned the world, and I'm still in utter disbelief. Easily the biggest upset since Moonlight edged out La La Land in 2017, one year removed from the worst Best Picture winner of this century beating out another foreign film powerhouse in Roma, (not mentioning the former's name) and the (seemingly) unfathomable happened: Parasite took down 1917. The first Korean film to ever be nominated for Best International Feature Film at the Oscars just won Best Picture, becoming the first film not in the English language to EVER win Hollywood's most prestigious award in the process. 92 years of precedent were shattered in an instant, and, at least for this year, the Academy looked at the winds of change and let it carry them to the best possible outcome any reasonable individual could've asked for. For at least this one shining moment, the cynicism in me is gone, replaced by jubilation and a delirious sense of pride and joy. This is why I am hopelessly in love with film, and with the Academy Awards. (Don't worry: that cynicism will return by the end of this post.)
Let's start by talking about the highest of highlights. Parasite, the 7th film from South Korean director Bong Joon Ho, had been shaking the industry for months, ever since it unanimously won Palme d'Or at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. Shameless flex: I was actually at Cannes for this moment, after waiting several hours outside the Palais to get a prime seat to experience one of the first screenings of this provocative crowd-pleaser. Since then, the film has been raking in award after award, breaking countless boundaries along the way, but never did I think it actually stood a chance against the old guard of the Academy and their (unofficial) representative, 1917. After all, I will once again remind you that last year the Academy faced a similar decision, with a vastly inferior film that shall-not-be-named, no less, and embarrassingly whiffed on the opportunity. I fully expected a win for 1917, and had long since accepted this outcome. Even after the biggest upset of the night, Bong Joon Ho winning Best Director over Sam Mendes, I was ready (and waiting) to hear 1917's name called for Best Picture. But, the wave of momentum for Parasite at that point was very real after upsets in both Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director. (The later of which truly is a rarity - Sam Mendes won at the Director's Guild for 1917, and the last time the DGA and Best Director didn't line up when the DGA winner was on the Oscar ballot was in 2002.) And then, it happened. In the biggest shock of the night, and one of the biggest shocks in Oscar memory, for that matter, Parasite destroyed the status quo and became the first film not in the English language to ever win Best Picture. And made up for an otherwise relatively mediocre awards show in the process.
Before I talk about the rest of the show, I have to say that I simply adore Song Kang-ho in this video. The accomplished actor, and long-time collaborator with Bong Joon Ho is in the background towards the end of that acceptance speech, mostly during Miky Lee's speech, (which is wonderful) and you can tell he is truly enjoying the scene. He can barely hold back his emotions, but he's still in that moment, savoring every millisecond of it. Song Kang-ho is all of us who keep coming back to the Academy Awards, hoping they give Best Picture to deserving films like Parasite, and I love it. His genuinely overwhelmed emotional state of being when he holds that Best Picture Oscar for the first time (at 4:40 in the video) is exactly why we do this.
Ok, time for the cynic in me to slowly creep back in. As for the rest of the Oscars, it felt like something off an off year of questionable decisions and mediocre acceptance speeches. There was a bizarre "Impact of Music" montage, which felt rushed and unimportant for a 3.5 hour awards show, and it led into a performance of "Lose Yourself" by Eminem, who famously didn't show up to perform the song that won an Oscar 17 years ago. So, why is he here now? What relevancy does this performance have on anything? Who knows / cares, but it was offset by a wonderful montage to introduce each contender in Best Original Score, prominently featuring the Oscars' first female conductor, Eimear Noone, in the process. (Even though the speech prior from Brie Larson / Gal Gadot / Signourney Weaver felt a little too much like pandering to me.) This great montage was immediately followed by one of the better feel-good stories of the night, as Hildur Guðnadóttir completed her unprecedented rise to A-list status by winning Best Original Score, becoming only the fourth woman to win the category in the process. (And first since 1997.) Check out her speech below, easily the most wonderful / authentic moment of the night from anyone not involved with Parasite.
That said, Joker's other Oscar win, Joaquin Phoenix for Best Actor, was easily the worst speech of the night, (biases towards the frustrating implications of that win aside, which I have previously mentioned here) as Joaquin stumbled through a borderline incomprehensible acceptance speech that highlighted the overarching idea of standing for something, (anything) before talking about animal rights, before thanking the Academy for giving people like him a second chance? (Which is a bit of a head-scratcher, coming from a straight white male who looked like a deer in the headlights the entire time he was up there.) Whatever. Joaquin got his Oscar, let's just move on.
Overall, the winner's list was pretty solid. I was sad when Little Women failed to win Best Adapted Screenplay, (it did win Costume Design, though!) but at least it lost to Taika Waititi, who joined a very small list of indigenous people to win at the Oscars in the process. (the first of his native Māori decent) Toy Story 4 won Best Animated Feature, which.... eh, but hey! Roger Deakins won his second Oscar for Cinematography! And it's all 1917 received, outside of a perplexing Oscar for Best Visual Effects, so yay! (How do you not give that to the literal thousands of people who worked on Avengers: Endgame?) But, for the most part, this ceremony was.... forgettable. Outside of the shock at Best Picture / Best Director (the later of which is, truly, one of the biggest upsets in recent memory. I can't overstate this enough) and the amazing speech that followed from director Bong Joon Ho, all the major categories were locked up, and none of the four stars had noteworthy speeches to follow up their expected wins. Outside of Guðnadóttir, there wasn't a triumphant moment from someone like Hannah Beachler or Ruth E. Carter that would lead to an inspirational moment, so the Academy is very fortunate they allowed Parasite to save the day.
I keep falling back to Best Picture, because it really baffles me that the Academy could rubber band as much as it did from last year to this year. In my opinion, the gap in quality between Parasite and 1917 was significantly smaller than the gap in quality between Roma and Green Book, so why did virtually the same Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences give Best Picture to freaking Green Book? (Yes, finally mentioning its name.) My hypothesis is the preferential ballot and the Netflix effect. There is serious resentment from many in the Academy towards Netflix, (on display again this year, as the studio walked away from its 24 Oscar nominations with a mere 2 trophies, highlighted by their rather stunning upset in Best Animated Feature, and The Irishman being the only film nominated for Best Picture to walk away from the night empty-handed) which, in my opinion, led many to put Roma dead last on their preferential Oscar ballot last year. However, this year, many of those same crusty old voters likely put Parasite somewhere in their top 3, which enabled it to be number one if they had films like Once Upon a Time and Ford v Ferrari above it. I may be completely off-base with that theory, but it's just so bizarre to me to see this kind of extreme whiplash otherwise. How did Roma not win Best Picture??? I'm still not over this, clearly!
That said, I am very glad Parasite happened, and it saved an otherwise (mostly) forgettable night. Parasite's unprecedented win is hopefully the sign that the east winds of change are truly sweeping through Hollywood, and the young guard really is coming to dethrone the old white men that have comfortably sat in their positions of power for decades. But, who knows. Steven Speilberg is remaking West Side Story, which is certainly a problematic remake with issues that I expect most old white men to overlook, so my hopes still aren't that high.
My Number: Parasite/Parasite
The Year of the Lead
Welcome to the sixth annual Awesome Actor Awards! This year's list is comprised (for the first time, I think) entirely of lead performances, and there were many great ones to choose from. You may notice this list diverts almost entirely from the Academy Awards, because their batch mostly sucks, (I'm not mad, you're mad) but that's ok! This is the real awards show, amirite? Don't forget: there will be an after party at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. Hope you enjoy this year's list!
Saoirse Ronan, Little Women
Kicking off the list is the always incredible Saoirse Ronan from Little Women. Her portrayal of Joe was synonymous with the character, (highlighted by the fact that when she heard director Greta Gerwig was making a new adaptation of Little Women, the real life actress went to Greta and said, "I'm going to be Joe.") and perfect for this iconic story.