Top 5 Movies of 2019

21 Dec
Dolor y Gloria

Dolor y Gloria

It’s time to revisit the best movies of the last year, in my humble estimation. They represent a variety of genres and themes, but they all featured great acting, writing and directing. Read on to learn more, and check out my reviews from previous years here: top movies of 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018.

Parasite: I wrote about Parasite shortly after I saw it, and I still think about certain indelible images from the movie: the new maid in the Park family using her Olympic talents to toss the hammer in the backyard of her boss’s palatial home; Mr. Kim lying awake, staring at the ceiling after a long night; the many long, dimly lit hallways of the Park mansion. Parasite is a work of visual art, but it’s also an expertly-drawn thriller and an astute commentary on inequality. The ultra rich and those just trying to get by? They exist side by side here, and in South Korea too.

Once upon a time in Hollywood: A few years ago, after reading the novel The Girls by Emma Cline, I became obsessed with learning everything I could about the Manson murders. When I heard that Quentin Tarantino was directing a movie about them, I felt uneasy: I didn’t think his penchant for gore and senseless violence would do the subject justice. But Once upon a time in Hollywood proved me wrong: audiences got 2 hours of classic Tarantino dialogue, a groovy soundtrack, a world of weirdos and misfits played by a cast of actors at the top of their craft. Dakota Fanning, Timothy Olyphant and Brad Pitt all turn in memorable performances. And Sharon Tate gets the ending in this movie that life never gave her.

Dolor y Gloria: Pedro Almodovar’s latest movie gives Antonio Banderas the opportunity to show what a talented actor he is. In Hollywood, he’s Puss in Boots. But in Spain, he’s a gifted actor, and in “Pain and Glory” he portrays an aging film director who spends his days numbing his aches and pains with an array of pills and potions. The movie can roughly be divided into thirds: the director’s reunion with his old collaborator, his reunion with an old lover, and caring for his dying mother. Interspersed with all of this are flashbacks to his childhood, where his mother is played by Penelope Cruz. Almodovar films are colorful and visually gorgeous, vivid testament to the beauty of Spain. This story shows what it takes for someone to pull themselves out of addiction: it’s not easy. But it takes effort. And love.

Hustlers: Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, starring Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez, and featuring music by Lizzo and Britney Spears, among many others, Hustlers was the rare feminist blockbuster. I’m not sure what a movie about strippers conning Wall Street types would have looked like if it had been directed by a man, but this movie portrayed complicated women with complicated motivations- some are more conflicted about stealing from their marks than others- in a nuanced way. It also gives J-Lo a chance to shine, commanding every scene she’s in as the ringleader of the group. This movie was just plain fun, and I hope to see more woman-led blockbusters like it in the future.

The Farewell: Awkwafina has shown that she can do both comedy and drama with The Farewell. Like its lead actress, the movie is never entirely dramatic or comedic. It’s a serious story about an immigrant family with many funny, absurd moments. Isn’t that what family, and real life, is like? The plot is simple: spend time with Grandma without telling her she has terminal cancer. Director Lulu Wang’s tone is whimsical throughout, observing the absurdities of the proceedings at a distance. The result is a deeply personal film about family that was one of the most affecting of 2019.

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