By Sean Boelman
Now that 2019 has come to a close and most films have been released or screened (a few stragglers weren’t shown to regional critics until the beginning of January), it is time to look back and reflect on all of the cinematic offerings the last year of the decade had in store! In a year of many ups and downs, there are plenty of films audiences will remember: some for being the most out-of-touch films ever released and other for closing out series decades in the making. Yet there are also plenty of films that deserve to be remembered not for the impact their release had, but their quality and the impact they will have in the long run. Below are the ten best films to be released in 2019.
10. The Souvenir
Joanna Hogg’s semi-autobiographical film The Souvenir is by no means meant for mainstream audiences. In fact, the film’s deliberately slow pacing has proven to be quite challenging for most viewers. However, the gorgeous visual style which Hogg brings to the film and the riveting second half make this a film that will easily stick in the minds of viewers who are not put off by the seeming lack of excitement early on.
9. Jojo Rabbit
The highly-anticipated new film from cult favorite director Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit promised to be an “anti-hate satire” if that wasn’t clear from Waititi’s over-the-top lampoon of Adolf Hitler. Yet beyond the dark humor (which is often quite funny), the film is also an emotional story about a young boy trying to stand up for what he believes in a world that is trying to teach him the opposite. Although it isn’t quite as original as Waititi seems to hope it is, it is still a crowd-pleasing treat.
8. The Last Black Man in San Francisco
After receiving raves at Sundance, Joe Talbot’s The Last Black Man in San Francisco received a quiet summer release. Although the scale of the film is very small and personal, the film (inspired by the experiences of star Jimmie Fails) is both a love letter to the eponymous city and a beautiful tale of the meaning of home. Anyone who has ever felt out of place in their life will immediately connect with the film and its unique style.
Babylon is certainly the most unorthodox pick on this list, and that is because some would debate whether or not it was a 2019 film at all. A snapshot of British reggae culture in the late 20th century, the film was first shown in 1980 but went unreleased in the United States until early 2019 for fear that it would incite racial violence. At the very least, it’s an important piece of history, but it is also a phenomenal character study.
6. The Report
What makes Scott Z. Burns’s exploration of one of the most embarrassing cover-ups in American history so effective is that Burns figures out exactly how to crawl under the viewer’s skin. It is unlikely that any viewer will finish The Report feeling any less than infuriated by what they see happening on screen. Adam Driver and Annette Bening are both great, bringing an absolutely chilling delivery to Burns’s wonderful dialogue.
The single most heartbreaking film on this list, Clemency takes a searing look at the death penalty and the impact it has on not only the inmate, but also the executioner. Although this film may not get the attention it deserves because of a higher-profile similarly-themed film (Just Mercy) is hitting theaters around the same time, but the performances by Alfre Woodard and Aldis Hodge and the script by Chinonye Chukwu are among the year’s best.
The pick on this list that has likely been the most divisive among audiences, Waves is a wonderful coming-of-age story told with impeccable craft from writer-director Trey Edward Shults. Although the criticisms that some viewers have had of the film are valid, Shults’s heart is very much in the right place, and this ends up being a story about love that crosses the boundaries of age, race, and location.
3. Blinded by the Light
On the surface, Blinded by the Light is a conventional coming-of-age tale, but below that, it’s an exploration of the artistic process and how an artist is inspired. Fans of Bruce Springsteen have probably already seen this film, with a soundtrack comprised of some of the greatest hits by The Boss, but even those uninitiated to the music that inspired the autobiographical film and its writer Sarfraz Manzoor will find themselves touched by the inspiring story.
Although it may not have the most substantial script of the year, 1917 is inarguably the most ambitious cinematic exercise to grace multiplexes, firmly earning it a spot on the higher end of this list. The cinematography by Roger Deakins is absolutely breathtaking, the editing seamless, and the direction from Sam Mendes impeccable, all coming together to make the film look as if it was shot in one continuous take. As a popcorn flick, it is extremely entertaining, but it’s also an emotionally resonant character-driven war film.
Undeniably the most underseen film of 2019, Synonyms, the semi-autobiographical dramedy from Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid, is also one of the most resonate films of the decade. Likely to stick with viewers long after the credits roll, Lapid’s film offers one of the most effective explorations of identity to grace the screen in quite a long time. Although the unconventional narrative structure and ambitious form employed by Lapid are likely to alienate general audiences, the story is extremely hard-hitting and holds the same emotional impact across repeat viewings. It’s understandable why this film hasn’t yet caught the public’s eye, but at the same time, it absolutely deserves more attention.
What were some of your favorites of 2019? One can only hope that 2020 offers just as many great films!
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The Snake Hole
Retrospectives, opinion pieces, awards commentary, personal essays, and any other type of article that isn't a traditional review or interview.