Clint’s Top Ten of 2019

This was a…just…what a year. I mean, we had some absolutely wild stuff happen both in and outside of film, all of it an absolute roller coaster. The Skywalker Saga came to a close, the president of the United States got into a Twitter flame war with a teenager that’s more eloquent than he is, I rediscovered how much I love Nine Inch Nails, we all collectively looked at the advertising for Cats and said “no, no thank you, please no,” and Ang Lee released a film in such a high frame rate that it defied processing by much of the audience. I went through a lot of the year wondering if I’d see anything that outdid Star Wars for me, unaware that indeed most things would outdo Star Wars for me. 

My sanity isn’t on-edge like it was compiling last years list, my head in my hands and enough caffeine in my veins to vibrate me right through the walls, but I still had a heck of a time compiling this year’s offering. Some of these are new, some are harder to find, and one doesn’t even have wide distribution to my knowledge. A few of these are going to be no surprise, while I think some may be shockers for you. And no, I haven’t seen Uncut Gems yet (though I’m sure it would have hit the list).

Honorable Mentions

I can’t put everything on the list, so I just wanted to highlight the wonderful films that didn’t quite make it (but that you should still see). Things like the documentary Hail, Satan? that’s on Hulu as we speak, or the delightfully decadent remake of Rabid by the Soska Sisters. The Death of Dick Long is so insane that it has to be true, and Happy Death Day 2 U was yet another display of just what a phenomenal actress Jessica Rothe is. I was privileged to see I Am Human, a documentary from wonderful director Taryn Southern (local to Wichita, KS, where I live) that covers the way we’re using cyborg implants to improve the lives of people with diseases and disabilities. There was Emily Ting’s feel-good film, Go Back to China, that builds on the trend of Asian performers and directors finding a new prominence in American cinema. Lastly, I’d like to mention Noah Baumbach’s A Marriage Story for just how sheerly beautiful it is. I urge you to seek these out on top of the main list, they were great.

10. Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood by Quentin Tarantino

Look, your mileage on this is going to vary. Tarantino pulls some of his familiar tricks again, enjoying the revisionist history and reveling in the characters of a lost Hollywood as the culture is changing. What I love about this is his direct focus on the love and care that existed amongst these people, what their performances meant to them, and how they reacted to what was going on around them. I would argue this as one of DiCaprio’s greatest performances, diving into the mental state of a faded television star that still wants to pull art out of his as despite poisoning his liver with cocktail after cocktail as his best friend/man wife/stunt double enables him. This is about more than just Hollywood, it’s about friendship and what we’ll do for those we love. I was very surprised by the real emotion I felt at this one, while laughing and while feeling afraid and while feeling vulnerable. If Tarantino were to go out, this would be a high note to do it on.

See my full review here

09. Us by Jordan Peele

I love what Jordan Peele is becoming, utilizing horror to talk about social problems (which horror and science fiction have always used for) and offer them to a mass audience. Us, a title layered with multiple different meanings and representations, is the sophomore offering from the director and he’s developed beyond his previous abilities. Whatever your stance on the U.S. economy and the social class system, the film remains effective enough to transcend it’s weird storybook logic and sucker-punch the audience with a message that stays poignant on repeat viewings. Contrasting beautiful and ugly imagery with a score that is to DIE for, I was left thoroughly uncomfortable, then laughing, then feeling uncomfortable for laughing, and then laughing again. It’s such a weird mishmash of ideas that pinpoints nicely and comes together under the masterful performance of Lupita Nyong’o. Look, it’s an odd film. I know it didn’t land for everyone, but I’ve continued having fun with it since its release and I believe it holds up on repeat viewings. Really holds up. Like…really well.

See my full review here.

08. Ready or Not by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett

So this is what we’re doing in 2019 then, skewering the privileged? I realized I’ve got four films on my list that are just dunking on those spoiled by the heritage created by late-stage capitalism, and if we couple that with fascism then half my list is about this stuff. Holy shit. Anyway, Ready or Not is a wonderful thing. It’s something many don’t get to witness; the birth of a new scream queen being a rarity these days. Samara Weaving, niece of Hugo Weaving (a.k.a. Agent Smith, a.k.a. Elrond of Rivendell), is so damned phenomenal onscreen. The directors let her play, messing with the costuming and letting her have some fun with gore effects. There’s an incompetent family with ancient weapons (many drug-addled), and their idiocy is hilarious. When you have a man hiding in the bathroom so he can learn how to use a crossbow via YouTube, several cocaine-fueled accidental deaths, and a battleaxe wielding…well…a battleaxe, you have a recipe for such a fun ride that it had to become one of my favorites of the year. 

07. Knives Out by Rian Johnson

I love that this exists. I love every minute of it. That donut-hole speech is going to go down in history as one of the best monologues of 2019 and one of the most frequently misquoted by your drunk buddy at parties. Other reasons to love this movie: Chris Evans being an absolute shitheel, Ana de Armas, a blatantly British man doing a Foghorn Leghorn impression, whodunnit with cell phones, looking for the Noah Segan cameo, and many many more. When a whole family full of spoiled asshats are defensive, with “knives out and beaks bloody,” I start loving it. No one is safe, and Johnson spends the film dunking on wealth, privilege, alt-right Nazi trolls, liberal arts snowflakes, the “I’d have voted for Obama for a third term” attitude of hypocritical closet-racists, just everyone. Everyone except the kind and loving. For that we have Ana de Armas, who plays a character so open and honest that she can’t lie without vomiting. It’s a beautiful statement that highlights just how much we need to set everything aside and…just…c’mon, can’t we all just be courteous and kind to each other? For shit’s sake. 

Read my full review here.

06. The Lighthouse by Robert Eggers

Admit it, you’ve always wanted to watch Robert Pattinson complain about Willem Dafoe’s farts while Dafoe yells at the lad, insistent that his lobster recipe is beloved. When Eggers dropped The Witch on us I came away shellshocked, but this left me clutching at a stitch in my side. It’s hilarious and weird and surreal, completely beyond the realm of what I would consider possible in modern film that gets wide release. Shot and screened in academy ratio, filmed in black and white, crusty and disgusting, and featuring enough tentacles and mermaid genitalia to satisfy the weirdest of fetishes, the film contains such a strange energy that winds up making it one of the most fun entries of the year. It’s also insanely creepy, eerie, and disturbing to look at. I’m not sure what could truly sell anyone on the film, but just know that an argument over cooking styles turns into a frightening sea curse that involves King Triton. It’s batshit insane and so much fun. Oh, and don’t even glance at a seagull the wrong way.

Read my full review here.

05. Little Women by Greta Gerwig

As stated in my review…I needed this. Something so loving, positive, sweet, and kind was so necessary at this point. Greta Gerwig and Saoirse Ronen have become quite the team with these last two films, focusing on domestic relationships that feel real ad outlandish at the same time. This has been adapted an obnoxious amount of times, but a fresh take on Alcott’s wonderful novel (a personal favorite of mine) was what we needed and it rings so true to the heart of that tale. This is what I wanted for Christmas, a beautiful adaptation that left me happy. I appreciated the non-linear take, the stellar performances across the board (Eliza Scanlan is incredible), and the fact that somewhere in the universe something realized I needed a great Alexandre Desplat score this year. I hope this reaches a generation of young people the way the 1994 adaptation reached my generation, reminding us that love and personal acceptance are the things that matter the most to who you are. 

Read my full review here.

04. Saint Frances by Alex Thompson

Sometimes you get a few films a year that elicit tears, but rarely do I see something that leaves me so profoundly SHOOK. Saint Frances tackles a lot of modern social justice issues, from religion to sexuality to abortion, but it looks on them with no judgement. Instead, the message is built on a foundation of love an understanding that left me a sobbing mess at the end. Sure, it’s got cute little millenial touches like using the Venmo app to split the cost of an abortion, but all of that just adds some whimsy to the otherwise dark subject matter. Everyone has a lot of feelings and beliefs, but none of them are cruel or overbearing with them. While each bit of the film is delightful, I have to highlight Kelly O’Sullivan as the lead, Bridget. There’s so much going on under the surface, so many things simmering and breaking and hurting, and it’s delightful to watch it all happen like this. I hope this gets a wider release, a stint on a streaming service, anything. You have to see this one. 

Read my full review here.

03. Parasite by Bong Joon-Ho

Told you, we’re spending practically the whole list dunking on privilege. This could have made the list for the “Jessica, only-child, Illinois, Chicago” moment alone, but really the whole thing is an embarrassment of riches. From the drawn-out, hilarious first hour to the breakneck, devastating final hour, Bong Joon-Ho is able to make us laugh before quietly asking us what our goals in life should be, what really makes us. Watching talented-but-lackadaisical people attempt to feed off of the rich while they spoil in their naive luxury is funny, but only on the surface. It makes us all want to do better, to be smarter and apply ourselves. There’s something special about the hat-trick, the magic turn where one hour covers weeks of setup and manipulation and the final hour shows how it can all fall apart in a matter of minutes, that really speaks to the precious balance many live through in their day-to-day struggles. In short – this sucker is fantastic.

Read my full review here.

02. Midsommar by Ari Aster

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about how important this film is to me, so you had to know it was going on this list. Aster made his name last year with Hereditary, but now he’s pushed into the realm of masterwork with this lengthy, quiet, disturbing contemplation on toxic relationships and what it means to truly reciprocate interpersonally. From the wondrous, drug-trip visuals that bask in bright sunshine to Florence Pugh’s gripping performance, I loved each and every moment of the film. Everything, even the horrific moments, are so quiet and deliberate that you feel as though they’re a meaningful part of a stunning narrative. It has some of the most uncomfortable music as well, composed by The Haxan Cloak to build a perfect atmospheric experience. I squirmed, I was uncomfortable, I laughed and freaked out at the same time, and I loved every minute of it. I’ve seen it six times (though admittedly just because there’s a bear in a cage).

Read my full review here.

01. Jojo Rabbit by Taika Waititi

There’s something special about a moment that is so perfectly built-to and then executed in a film. You know what I’m talking about, at least if you’ve seen the incredible Jojo Rabbit. I’m all for dunking on Nazis, they deserve it. This is about so much more, though. It’s about the dangers of indoctrinating children, about being kind to people that are different from you because…well, they’re people (I can’t believe that’s a necessary message in this day and age but…here we are), and about what truly goes along with being a ten year old kid that’s desperate to fit in. And yes, there’s an imaginary-friend-Hitler, but he’s played as a cruel and incompetent asshat and that’s as it should be. What matters more is the relationship between Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) and his hidden charge, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie). They behave as kids, young and hopeful while learning that the world might not always be as they’ve been told. It’s heartwarming, it’s hilarious, it’s devastating, and it’s one of the best uses of “Heroes” by David Bowie that’s ever happened in a film. This is my absolute favorite film of the year, and I can’t wait to see it again.

Read my full review here.

And that’s my list! Tell me, what were your favorites of the year? Did I miss anything vastly important?

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