/Film’s Top 15 Movies of 2019

4. The Irishman

Jacob Hall: The Irishman uses your knowledge of Martin Scorsese’s own movies against you. Just when you think it’s another riff on Goodfellas, just when you think it’s Casino 2.0, just when you get cozy with something that feels familiar, the greatest filmmaker of the past 50 years starts asking the harsh questions and offering harsher answers. Much has already been said about the impressive visual effects that de-age and age Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Al Pacino (all giving tremendous performances), but that’s no gimmick. Instead, this film forces us to watch as these men, powerful and seductive and assured, age before our very eyes, with years sometimes passing in a single cut. The rapid-fire pace of those first two hours is all a misdirection – the final agonizing 90 minutes intentionally slow down as we linger with these men in their old age, their youth gone in a flash as they face a future with no legacy. The Irishman isn’t just about gangsters. It’s Scorsese intentionally echoing his oldest tricks before asking himself, and us, “Who is going to remember me? Will my work matter?” This film answers that definitively: of course.

Ethan Anderton: Death comes for all of us, and that seems to be something that’s on the mind of director Martin Scorsese with his epic crime drama The Irishman. Throughout the movie, text appears in front of various crime bosses and thugs detailing the manner of the year in which they died and the gruesome manner in which they met their end. No matter the power they had, the money they grabbed, the status they earned, they all ended up in the same place: six feet in the ground. And that’s exactly where we’re all headed. So what is our legacy? What are we leaving behind? What will truly matter when we all reach the end? This is exactly what Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) is left wondering as the last man standing from these decades of crime and betrayal. The final shot brings together everything that came before it as Frank asks a visiting priest at his nursing home to leave the door to his room open a little bit. Is it in memory of the man he betrayed? Is it a hope that his family will one day walk through it and understand the sacrifices he made for them, even if they were misguided? Or is it his way of keeping the door open to the past where he felt like his life had purpose? Maybe it’s all of that.

Chris Evangelista: The gangster version of Barry Lyndon. Martin Scorsese‘s The Irishman is a tour de force – the mob movie to end all mob movies. Spanning decades (with a hefty runtime), The Irishman is a bookend to Scorsese’s other two mob collaborations with Robert De Niro, GoodFellas and Casino. If GoodFellas is a story of youth, and Casino is a tale of adulthood, The Irishman is the twilight years – where the ticking clock is growing louder, and the world that you thought you knew is nothing more than a hazy memory. Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (De Niro) takes us on a journey through his long, blood-drenched life as he rises from a meat truck driver to mafia hitman. Frank is guided by two different men. One is mob boss Russell Buffalino (Joe Pesci), the other is Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino, having a blast here). Hoffa is all bluster while Russell is quieter; more subdued. This gives Pesci, who had been in retirement until now, a chance to do something much different than he’s done before. His character here isn’t one of the volatile, motormouthed wiseguys he’s played in the past. He’s calm and even grandfatherly – but that doesn’t mean he’s any less deadly. The first two hours of Scorsese’s epic are a showcase for a life of crime, but they’re just setting-up the bleak, heartbreaking final hour as Frank grows old and feeble and learns that everything he did – all the hits, all the history-making crimes – were all for nothing. Sooner or later, everyone’s number is up. And when your time comes, what will you be remembered for? Will you even be remembered at all? Don’t close the door all the way.

little women types

3. Little Women

Jacob Hall: As an emotional experience, it’s hard to beat Little Women, a film that had tears of joy and sorrow streaming down my face for its entire back half. Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel still draws an audience for a reason: it works, damn it. But beyond those classic pillars, writer/director Greta Gerwig quietly infuses her adaptation with a modern sensibility, drawing from Alcott’s own life and experiences to further enrich the text and offer a bridge to modern audiences. By restructuring the story to jump between the past and the present, Gerwig allows the tragedies and the joys to coexist and intermingle, a cocktail of memories and experiences that feel as gloriously, powerfully messy as a human life. It’s just plain wonderful.

Ethan Anderton: Despite loving Frances Ha and Lady Bird, my excitement for Greta Gerwig tackling a new adaptation of Little Women was almost non-existent. Even the presence of a stellar cast that includes Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Timothée Chalamet, Tracy Letts and Bob Odenkirk didn’t prepare me for how much I would end up loving this movie. Gerwig has injected modern life into this classic tale, finding a refreshing way to tell the story of aspiring writer Jo March by jumping back and forth in time, allowing many emotional beats to resonate in new ways. This movie lifts you up, occasionally knocks you down, but leaves your heart filled to the brim.

Hoai-Tran Bui: Greta Gerwig has crafted a film that I want to wrap myself up in and never leave. Little Women has always held a special place in my heart, but Gerwig has injected Louisa May Alcott’s timeless classic with a fresh modernity that makes all of the characters feel beautifully, painfully human. Following four wildly different sisters growing up during and after the Civil War, Little Women tackles all the joys and sadness of that awkward transition to adulthood with an inventive non-linear structure that shakes up Alcott’s well-known story. But to say that Gerwig gave Alcott’s creaky 200-year-old story a shiny new coat of modern feminist paint would be a falsehood: the directly simply hones in on the incredibly progressive elements of the story and shines a spotlight on them: from Jo’s (Saoirse Ronan) literary ambitions and dreams of independence, to Amy’s (Florence Pugh) savvy navigation of a society that is stacked against women. Anchored by award-worthy performances from the entire cast and clever directorial flairs that reward you upon each rewatch, Little Women is a rapturous portrait of humanity in all its messy, wonderful details.

Ben Pearson: Writer/director Greta Gerwig took the unusual tactic of restructuring Louisa May Alcott’s classic story in her adaptation of Little Women. That shuffling resulted in a unique split approach to the movie, one which somehow seemed to give the events of the film an extra sense of destiny and which added extra emotional weight to its saddest moment. Every single actor is perfectly selected and ideally equipped to play their character, but special props go to Saoirse Ronan’s Jo, Laura Dern’s Marmie, Florence Pugh’s Amy, and Timothée Chalamet’s Laurie. You can feel the familial love radiating between these actresses, and the cinematography and production design make the movie feel like a soft, warm blanket that I wanted to envelope me forever. This was the movie Gerwig was born to make.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Extended Preview

2. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Jacob Hall: Quentin Tarantino’s ode to a Hollywood that once was, never was, and never will be again is his most joyful, melancholy, and sweet movie. Even though it does indulge in his trademark extreme violence (one of the funniest and most shocking scenes of 2019), it’s mostly a hangout movie, allowing us to experience a few days in Hollywood in 1969, right as the industry, and the world, was about to change forever. As an aging actor and his devoted stuntman, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt showcase a chemistry that is second-to-none and their ambling adventures are as entertaining, and as surprisingly poignant, as anything on screen in recent years.

Ethan Anderton: It’s no secret that writer and director Quentin Tarantino is one of the most informed and educated cinephiles working today. So who better to write a love letter to Holllywood as the classic Tinseltown that everyone used to admire was on the verge of losing its innocence. At the same time, we have aging actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his driver and stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) on their way out of the spotlight, and a rising star in the form of Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), high on the promise of her dreams coming true. These three are facing an America that is about to drastically change, and in the real world, their stories have a tragic ending. But Tarantino gives them a fairytale ending, albeit with some blood and gore, that lets this dreamy alternate version of Hollywood continue on in with newfound hope.

Chris Evangelista: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a hang-out film, a love letter to the past, a melancholy fairy tale. It’s all these things, and more. Set in and around L.A. in 1969, Quentin Tarantino’s magnum opus zeroes in on an insecure actor (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his cool-as-ice stunt double/best friend (Brad Pitt). In the background of it all is Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), the doomed starlet who met a tragic end at the hand of the Manson Family. But Tarantino isn’t making a Manson movie. He’s making a movie about dreamers in the city of dreams – people who feel fully alive, drawing us into a world that’s long gone. In fact, it never even existed. In the end, we’re all nostalgic for a fantasy.

Ben Pearson: The hot takes were a’flyin’ when Quentin Tarantino’s latest landed in theaters last summer, but I think time has been kind to this one. I recently rewatched Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and still found it to be Tarantino’s nicest, most reserved movie since 1997’s Jackie Brown – a breezy, soulful look at a bygone era, and a reclaiming and reframing of a woman whose tragic death has overshadowed her life. I love hanging out with Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth, cruising around 1969 L.A. and watching these guys navigate their relationship as it hits a crucial turning point. I love spending time with Sharon Tate, seeing her vivacious personality on full display. I love the music, the cars, the vibe. Once Upon a Time is Tarantino’s most well-realized fairytale, a loving ode to a laser-focused time period so lovingly recreated that it feels immersive in a way nothing else he’s directed quite has.

Parasite

1. Parasite

Jacob Hall: If Alfred Hitchcock had a conscience to match his breathtaking skills as a purveyor of cinematic chills and thrills, he would’ve made Parasite. Bong Joon-ho’s masterpiece is impossible to pin down when you’re watching it and impossible to define after it’s over. It’s a satirical comedy. It’s a low-key heist movie. It’s a twisted thriller. It’s a horror movie. It’s a family tragedy. It is all of these things at once, never allowing itself to be boxed in, never content to be familiar or to do anything expected. But even as it thrills and shocks and barrels down left turns that no one saw coming, Parasite never loses sight of its characters and their plight, landing one devastating blow after another. And through our blurred vision, we realize that Parasite isn’t just about these characters. It’s about all of us.

Ethan Anderton: With all the buzz surrounding this movie once it hit theaters back in the fall, I was glad to experience it having read very little about the plot. That made this a roller coaster of a theatrical experience, especially since the movie isn’t so easily defined in one particular genre, fluctuating from an amusing family heist to a grim thriller and a poignant commentary on class. Full of suspense, horror, comedy, chills, and plenty of shocking twists, there’s no movie out there like Parasite. Director Bong Joon-ho lifts up the poor, knocks down the rich, but ultimately takes blender to everyone to show that we’re all animals willing to do whatever we have to in order to keep what we have or get something more, even if it means defying others of the same satisfaction. It’s brutal in its scathing commentary on the dark side of our ambitions, and even though the escalation of the film’s thrills feel like they could only exist on the big screen, the sentiment of what happens on the screen is very much present in our everyday lives.

Hoai-Tran Bui: Bong Joon-ho‘s genre-defying masterpiece is a pitch-black exclamation point on which to end this year of “eat the rich” films. But rather than celebrating the humiliation of the wealthy in a grand feast of schadenfreude, Parasite pulls the wool from over our eyes to show that when you eat the rich, you’re still a cannibal. At once a comedy, a razor-sharp social satire, a twisted fairy tale, and a Hitchcockian suspense film, Parasite defies categorization and defies comparison. Bong expertly interweaves a tale of two families, one insanely wealthy and one impoverished, as the poor Kim family cons their way into the employ of the rich Park family. Then, the film pulls a narrative sleight of hand that upends all expectations. Filled with nonstop twists and turns, Parasite is the rare arthouse film that can be enjoyed as an entertaining surface-level thriller — but once you look underneath the surface, the horrors of capitalism and class division become hideously clear.

Chris Evangelista: Another entry in the “down with the wealthy” subgenre of 2019, and the best of the bunch. Bong Joon-ho‘s Parasite is an almost unclassifiable film. It has all the ingredients for a mystery, a thriller, a comedy, a horror movie, and more. But just when you think you’ve grasped what Bong is going for, Parasite pulls the rug out from under you and goes off in another wild, eye-popping direction. A down-on-their-luck family cons their way into working for a much wealthier household, and that’s when you start to think: “Oh, this is going to be all about these have-nots taking over the lives of the haves.” But no, that’s not what’s going on at all. Instead, Parasite goes deeper – literally, revealing a previously unrevealed basement to the house that has secrets of its own. Parasite courses with energy as Bong stages one dazzling set-piece after another, reminding us why he’s one of the best filmmakers around right now.

Ben Pearson: Writer/director Peter Bogdonovich once said, “I like films where you feel like somebody’s home.” Parasite fits that criteria in more ways than one. Not only are there multiple families jostling for control of the movie’s glamorous house (including a reveal that “somebody’s home” in a secret basement), but from a filmmaking standpoint, co-writer and director Bong Joon-ho is in obvious control of each aspect of the production. Every single movement of the camera feels clearly motivated and meticulously planned, the production design is exquisite, and the script, with its extensive exploration of class inequality, gave us the best of 2019’s many “eat the rich” stories. Portrait may be timeless, but Parasite is the movie of the year.

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