Wes's Top 10 Films for 2019 and more
OK, where are the drumrolls, please? This year has flown by and there's been a ton of movies both good and bad. We end the year and decade with a decent, but not spectacular, year at the cinema. If I had to rank this year on a scale of A to F, I'd give a B-: not terrible, but not great, either. Here's looking ahead to a great 2020!
My Top 10 is little different this year and varies from many of my colleagues, as many of the critical darlings including: The Irishman, The Farewell, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Joker and Jojo Rabbit did NOT make my list. While I liked all those films, I didn't love enough them to be included in the Top 10 or even my Top 20; I explain more below.
Wes's Top 10 Best Films of 2019
Marriage Story - The poignant, heartbreaking Netflix family drama from Noah Baumbach is the best since "Kramer vs. Kramer" and features two of the most powerful performances of the year from Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. Its last, gut-wrenching scene will get to you.
1917 - The Sam Mendes World War I drama is exquisite, riveting and one of the most powerful films of the year. A sublime technical achievement, it should win many awards in the technical categories. Like “Marriage Story,” its final scene is devastating, but in a different way.
Parasite - The foreign language film of the year from South Korea, Bong Joon Ho's thriller is mesmerizing and a relevant tale of the battle of socioeconomic classes. A must-see.
The Biggest Little Farm - The most charming, engaging documentary of the year, it's about a couple who give up their urban lives to build a farm. It would be hard to believe, except that all of it is true.
Little Women - Greta Gerwig's take on Louisa May Alcott's classic novel is one of the most affecting, elegantly acted films of the year, and with such a powerhouse ensemble cast (Saiorse Ronan, Laura Dern, Timothy Chalamet, Meryl Streep and more), it would be hard not to.
Uncut Gems - The Safdie Brothers delivered their best film to date: a gritty, dark drama with an amazing Adam Sandler (yes, that Adam Sandler) playing against type as the thoroughly unlikable loser making some terrible, tragic choices.
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice - The year's most touching documentary, it's a fascinating, bittersweet portrait of one of the most gifted musicians of our generation. Stay until the end and you’ll see her briefly sing again (have tissues handy). This makes her recent Kennedy Center Honors award all the more touching.
Richard Jewell - Clint Eastwood's best film in years, it's a pertinent, touching look at 1996 Atlanta Olympics hero Richard Jewell and his mistreatment by the press and the U.S. Government. It’s unfortunate that it hasn’t found a wider audience, given its memorable turns from Paul Walter Houser as Jewell and Oscar-winner Kathy Bates as his protective mama.
Ford v Ferrari - A pleasant surprise, this Matt Damon/Christian Bale true-story about racing is the one of the most thrilling, fast-paced and entertaining of the year. Damon is charming as Carroll Shelby, but it’s Bale’s excellent portrayal of race car driver Ken Miles that’ll stay with you.
Honey Boy - Shia LeBeouf's searing, often harrowing autobiographic tale inspired by his childhood is movingly portrayed by LeBeouf as his own Dad and young newcomer Noah Jupe as a young LeBeouf.
Honorable Mention (The Second 10):
The Peanut Butter Falcon, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Apollo 11, The Two Popes, Pain and Glory, Yesterday, Judy, Toy Story 4, Abominable, American Factory.
Why not these? I didn’t hate them, but they weren’t among my favorites. Here’s why.
The Farewell - Touching story from director and writer Lulu Wang had strong performances, but it felt too lightweight. Enjoyable but not as moved by it as others.
The Irishman - Excellent performances, but at 3 1/2 hours, it was a challenge to sit through (i.e. too damn long) and has a been-there-done-that feeling. Scorsese can do what he wants, just make sure his editor tells him no.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood - Tarantino’s too long, too slow tribute to old Hollywood wasn’t his best and felt like he was relying too much on his brand name. Two words can easily describe it: vastly overrated.
JoJo Rabbit - Director and writer Taika Waititi’s original story and a terrific newcomer in Roman Griffin Davis was hurt by the distracting, polarizing Hitler character (played by Waititi himself). Either you loved it or found it offensive. I’m in the latter category.
Joker - Joaquin Phoenix is brilliant in the title role and it effectively evoked the grittiness of early ‘80s New York, but the film is too disturbing given all the recent episodes of gun violence.
Also worth mentioning:
Bombshell - The pertinent drama that uncovers the Fox News/Roger Ailes sexual harassment scandal had some sharp performances, led by a transformative turn by Oscar-winner Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly. Still, it only skims the surface, tending toward caricature when it trots out almost everyone at Fox. The amazing makeup is a shoo-in for an Oscar.
My least favorite films:
There were more than a few that qualified here, including Ugly Dolls, Cats, The Intruder, Serenity, The Kitchen, and Rambo: Last Blood. However, I want to award my worst films of the year to the following lackluster Disney live action trio: Dumbo, The Lion King and Aladdin. Note to Disney: please stop remaking your own animated classics into live-action films, as in yesterday. They made money, but they still sucked and only prompted unfavorable comparisons to the original. Hoping the live-action remakes of Mulan and The Little Mermaid are better.