Film Critic's Picks for Best Films of 2019

09:00 January 28, 2020
By: David Vicari, Fritz Esker

Vicari's Best Films of 2019
by David Vicari

Awards season means that it is time for me to list my ten favorite movie from the previous year. First, here are some 2019 honorable mentions: Avengers: Endgame, Crawl, Ford v Ferrari, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, Knives Out, Midsommar, Queen & Slim, Rocketman, Shazam and Uncut Gems.

Now, here are the best films of 2019, according to me.

10) Us - Writer-director Jordan Peele's follow up to Get Out is full-blooded horror as a vacationing family is confronted by doubles of themselves. Not only is this gory and scary as hell, but it also examines the themes of social class and identity.

9) Dolemite Is My Name - Eddie Murphy gives a strong performance as stand-up comedian Rudy Ray Moore who, in 1975, decided to independently produce a "blaxploitation" movie featuring his stage persona Dolemite. In the vein of Ed Wood (1994) and The Disaster Artist (2017), this is an often riotously funny underdog tale of people who have no idea of how to make a competent movie but do it anyway with unwavering passion.

8) Toy Story 4 - Yes, four. This is the fourth computer animated Toy Story movie from Pixar, and it is extremely funny and fresh. I still can't get the "plush rush" scenes out of my head.

7) Richard Jewell - Actor Paul Walter Hauser's performance as Richard Jewell is so completely dead-on that it's seriously spooky. What is disconcerting about this fact based movie - about security guard Jewell, who was a hero during a terrorist bombing at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta but then became the prime suspect - is that its rush to judgment message is as relevant as ever in this age of social media.

6) 1917 - Director and co-writer Sam Mendes presents his WWI drama as if it is one continuous take. Sure, it's a gimmick, but man, it elevates the tension to an almost unbearable level.

5) Jojo Rabbit - A Hitler Youth cadet (Roman Griffin Davis) discovers that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their house in director Taika Waititi's brilliant satire on hate. Jojo Rabbit is darkly funny, but also humane and very moving.

4) Marriage Story - This detailed and crushing examination of a divorce, by writer-director Noah Baumbach, is replete with powerhouse performances by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson.

3) Little Women - Director Greta Gerwig's adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's beloved novel is presented in a fragmented flashback of memories that eventually catches up to the present narrative. It's wonderful storytelling and filmmaking. The little women themselves - Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh and Eliza Scanlen - are all terrific.

2) The Irishman - Yes, it is three-and-a-half-hours, and yes, it uses digital "de-aging" on the actors, but director Martin Scorsese is such a master craftsman that those things don't matter. The movie doesn't feel its length, and we truly get into the mind of hitman Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) as he befriends labor union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino).

1) Once Upon a Hollywood - Writer-director Quentin Tarantino combines a has-been actor (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stuntman (Brad Pitt) with actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and the Manson family in this bittersweet look at the last days of Hollywood's golden age. It's dramatic, jubilant and even suspenseful, not to mention incredibly entertaining. I have not seen anything quite like Once Upon a Hollywood and I love every minute of it.

The Best Films of 2019
by Fritz Esker

10) Little Women - The latest take on Louisa May Alcott's classic novel (written and directed by Greta Gerwig) retains its warmth and sincerity and features a terrific lead performance from Saoirse Ronan.

9) Ad Astra - It was a great year for Brad Pitt. Director James Gray's story of an astronaut traveling to the far reaches of space to find his father is a rare film where you never know exactly where it's going.

8) Joker - Ignore the clickbait pre-release hand-wringing from media scolds. Joaquin Phoenix delivers a performance that's terrifying and heartbreaking in writer/director Todd Phillips' origin story that's a step-by-step breakdown of the death of a mentally ill man's soul.

7) The Farewell -A Chinese-American woman (Awkwafina) travels with her family to China to visit her dying grandmother. The twist: no one's told the grandmother she's dying. Writer/director Lulu Wang made a film that's funny and poignant without descending into mushiness.

6) A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood -It's not a fictionalized version of last year's excellent documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor?. Here, Mr. Rogers (Tom Hanks) helps a reporter (Matthew Rhys) reconcile with his estranged father. Director Marielle Heller's film highlights Rogers' relentless kindness without deifying him.

5) Richard Jewell - Clint Eastwood turns 90 in March. But he hasn't lost his touch as a director and gets a terrific lead performance from Paul Walter Hauser. Jewell, a security guard who saved lives during the Olympic Park bombing in 1996, endures hounding by the FBI and a trial-by-media nightmare. The movie's warnings about people's rush to scapegoat others is especially relevant in the social media era.

4) Toy Story 4 -Pixar is the most reliable studio in the movie business. No franchise featuring as many entries as the Toy Story franchise has maintained such a consistent level of excellence in every film. Once again, viewers are treated to a highly entertaining ride that's also profound and moving. It can and should be appreciated by viewers of all ages.

3) 1917 - Director Sam Mendes shoots his harrowing World War I tale in a way that make it seems like it was done in one continuous take. In lesser hands, that could have seemed like a shallow gimmick, but in the hands of Mendes and ace cinematographer Roger Deakins, it's an immersive masterpiece.

2) Knives Out - Writer/director Rian Johnson invigorates the murder mystery genre with a deliciously fun story of a wealthy author's death under suspicious circumstances. It's part Agatha Christie drawing room mystery (with a Poirot surrogate played by Daniel Craig) and part Hitchcockian thriller. Avoid spoilers if you can!

1) Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood - In other years, Knives Out and 1917 would've been worthy films for the top spot. But in 2019, writer-director Quentin Tarantino's crowning career achievement is a riveting journey into 1969 Los Angeles. I enjoyed spending time in that world and with the characters played to perfection by Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, and Margot Robbie so much that I was sorry to see it end. It's a film that's gotten better each time I've rewatched it (3 times).

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