I don’t know if I would say that 2019 was a great movie year, but I think it had some great highlights. It was a good year for horror movies like Us, Ready or Not, and Escape Room. It was also a great year for movies made by women and about women. I’m hopeful that the powers-that-be in Hollywood will take notice that women make movies that audiences want to see and that stories that pass the Bechdel test about powerful women make money. With one foot firmly planted atop my soap box, I offer my ten favorite movies of 2019:
10. MICKEY AND THE BEAR
Mickey and the Bear manages to stand out from films with a similar theme about a girl from a small town who just wants to get out, by digging deeper and looking at the root cause for that need for escape. Relative newcomer Camila Morrone plays Mickey, a young woman desperate to get out of her small Montana town and go to college. When she isn’t in school or working at the taxidermist, she is at home taking care of her father, a veteran suffering from PTSD. Mickey shoulders the tremendous burden of looking after her father with grace and calm. But too often it is more than she can and should take. The film shows how the good times can make the bad times bearable, but that everyone has a breaking point.
As someone who loves to travel and also loves horror movies, part of me is always on the lookout for horror tropes when I travel. Midsommar in some ways is my worst nightmare: a trip abroad gone horribly wrong. Midsommar is one of the most beautiful movies of the year, set in the idyllic Swedish countryside with beautiful flowers, ornate costumes, and white cliff faces. But it also has some of the most horrific imagery of the year that still haunts me to this day. Florence Pugh (who had quite a 2019) gives the performance of the film as the vulnerable and sad Dani. The carefully crafted script puts you on the side of the American visitors but also displays their flaws and selfish natures, leaving your both disturbed by their fate and also somewhat satisfied.
Hustlers is about a group of women who met dancing at a strip club and went on to steal a lot of money from men they drugged and duped. The film is inspired by an article in ‘New York Magazine’. While the movie never forgets that what these women are doing is illegal and wrong, it also doesn’t shy away from showing how demeaned, harassed, and objectified they are by men. The film celebrates female friendships and how strong those bonds can be even when facing time in jail.
7. THE WIND
The American frontier is a dramatic setting for any tale but works particularly well for a horror/psychological drama about survival and the toles of isolation. Like many of my favorite movies this year, The Wind is told in a non-linear structure. This structure shows us the extremes before and after another couple settles across the prairie from the Macklin’s. Lizzy Macklin is struggling to find peace after leaving everything she knew to settle out west and losing a child. After her new neighbor makes her doubt her husband’s faithfulness, we watch her slowly give into her fears and fantasies.
6. THE SOUVENIR
Joanna Hogg’s, The Souvenir, is beautiful and sad from start to finish. We watch as Julie, a college student in film school, who comes from privilege, slowly realizes that she knows far less about the world than she thought she did. She falls in love for the first time, struggles to find her place in the film community, and has her first real heartbreak. Honor Swinton Byrne is charming as the naïve Julie alongside a brilliant performance by Tom Burke as Anthony. As the audience we can see how naïve Julie is, but we also know that you have to experience life to learn from it and Julie gets a crash course in how hard life can be through her relationship with Anthony.
5. HER SMELL
Her Smell is driven by a tour-de-force performance by Elisabeth Moss. The film takes an unblinking look at the tolls a Rockstar lifestyle can have on an artist, their family, and colleagues. Moss delivers a magnificent performance at both the big moments and the smaller moments of the film. Her Smell manages to sidestep the trappings of the familiar story of the fall of a celebrity. We see Becky at her highest, her lowest, and then finally evened out. By cutting out the middle points we see the extremes Becky has to overcome and makes her redemption feel earned and powerful.
4. THE FAREWELL
I was very emotionally moved by The Farewell. Not only is it a beautiful story about family, it is a complicated examination of the immigrant experience. The performances in The Farewell are deeply moving, especially that of Shuzhen Zhao as Nai Nai and Awkwafina was a revelation as a dramatic actress. The film reminds us that we can’t pick our family but that in times of crisis they are often the people we lean on. It embraces the awkward moments when history is dredged up and the lovely moments when life-long memories are made.
3. BLINDED BY THE LIGHT
I’ve grown up listening to Bruce Springsteen’s music as a part of pop culture but never bothered to think about his music much beyond that. Gurinder Chadha’s Blinded By The Light made me rethink Bruce’s music. Chadha cleverly utilizes Springsteen’s lyrics to tell the story of Javed’s struggle of surviving as a Pakistani in England during the 1980’s. Javed dreams of being a writer against his traditional parents’ wishes. He finds a deep connection to Sprinsteen’s music when a friend lends him a cassette tape. I was delighted that not only is Blinded By The Light a creative telling of a real fandom but also a delightful musical.
So much has been written about Parasite, I’m not sure what more I can add. More than anything to me, it is a story about the difference in class and the follies of the super-rich and the super-poor. Despite some surprising violence I think of Parasite as a comedy more than anything. This family story takes its time before introducing the real conflict, but when it does, it turns everything up to eleven. Bong Joon Hos’ sense of humor keep the audience a little off kilter throughout the film. I recommend you just watch it and experience it for yourself.
1. KNIVES OUT
I’m not at all surprised that Knives Out is my favorite movie of the year. I’ve been a fan of Rian Johnson since Brick and have always loved murder mysteries. I think this is a film I will return to repeatedly even though I know the “who-done-it” of it all. There is so much to love about Knives Out from its clever script, to the wildly talented cast, to the creative set design, and so much more. The narratives’ unique structure builds a second mystery onto the first, keeping the audience guessing. Knives Out was one of the most fun experiences I had at the cinema this year and I greatly anticipate what Johnson will do next.