Hello Dayton MostMetro!
When asked to write a “Best of ” list about movies, it’s hard to decide what to write. First off, it’s so subjective…do people really want to read about my personal tastes or should I look at films scholastically and determine what is the “best” in regards to craft? In addition, what should I include – only films that got picked up for distribution? only films that screened in this market? only films that got a release this year?
Here’s what I’ve decided. The following list is a collection of films that I saw and loved this year. (Though some films didn’t play until 2019 in Dayton, movies like CAPERNAUM and IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK and THE FAVOURITE are not on the list because I saw them in 2018.) And contrary to popular belief, not all the films on the list screened at THE NEON!
I should make it known that I have not seen every film that got a release this year…once in a while, a film even plays at THE NEON that I can’t fit into my schedule. I tend to shy away from science fiction (though not always), most horror movies and films with gratuitous violence and/or machismo-driven male plot lines (a la Tarantino). (I have not yet seen THE IRISHMAN – as I intend to see it on our big screen on NYE.)
Here they are. 15 Favorite Films of 2019 (in alphabetical order):
AMERICAN FACTORY – Julia Reichert & Steve Bognar’s masterful documentary is stunningly heartfelt and equally scary. It’s a call to action from and regarding America’s workforce (which also happens to be filmed in our own backyard). I’m so happy for Julia & Steve’s success with this film!
BELLE EPOQUE – This little French gem with Daniel Auteuil and Fanny Ardant has not yet found a distributor in the US, but its existential ETERNAL SUNSHINE vibe is so much fun…I hope it makes its way to the States soon. Here’s a trailer:
THE BLONDE ONE – I love a good, slow-paced, foreign film that’s beautifully shot and fraught with honest sexual tension…especially when I can empathize on some level. This film is a slow burn, and I love it. (It played at The Dayton LGBT Film Festival.)
BOOKSMART – This generation’s CLUELESS is smart, fresh and so endearing…the best teen comedy in years! I watched this film on a flight to Germany…and again on the flight back. Beanie is a treasure! (trailer is for mature audiences)
CIRCUS OF BOOKS – This endearing doc about a straight Jewish couple who ran one of the most famous gay adult bookstores in the US while raising three children is poignant, personal and a great history lesson. (This film screened as part of The Dayton LGBT Film Festival – there is no trailer yet.)
THE FAREWELL – This runaway hit is billed as a comedy, but it’s so much more.
JOJO RABBIT – My feelings about this film ebb and flow…today it happened to make the list. The child performances are extraordinary, and the production design is flawless. This film has a lot to say about how our children are often taught to hate – and how easy it is to spread misinformation.
THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO – This poetic film isn’t getting much year-end discussion, but I absolutely loved it – from the performances to the score to the cinematography.
LITTLE WOMEN – Thoughtful and exquisite! I complain about movie runtimes a lot. (I wish MARRIAGE STORY and WAVES were both 15-20 minutes shorter.) But this film seemed rushed at times…I think it would be stronger with a slightly slower pace and perhaps a runtime of 20 minutes more. Regardless, this is a gorgeous film with a beautiful structure.
PAIN & GLORY – Almodovar’s best film in over a decade…and that’s quite a feat (JULIETA and THE SKIN I LIVE IN are also quite strong from the last several years). This quiet film is full of rich performances, inventive storytelling and fantastic production design.
PARASITE – Must be seen. This film changes genres on a dime and has so much to say about class. Full of surprises and beautiful to look at – even when dark and disturbing.
PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE – This film will get a release in early 2020, and it is sublime. I can’t wait to see it again.
ROCKS – This film has not yet been picked up for distribution. It’s a gorgeous and heartbreaking story about a young girl trying to take care of her younger brother and herself after her mother has disappeared (again). There is sadly no trailer for this – just a clip.
THE TWO POPES – This film isn’t just a chamber piece – though simple moments between these two brilliant actors are certainly worth studying.
UNSETTLED – Winner of this year’s Audience Award at The Dayton LGBT Film Festival, this story about LGBT refugees in America is touching, timely, thought-provoking and powerful.
Don’t get me wrong. There are many more solid films from this year. There are movies with standout performances (like HARRIET) or incredible cinematography (like HONEYLAND) or great messages (like BIGGEST LITTLE FARM) or fascinating central subjects (like SOUND OF MY VOICE or PAVAROTTI) – but it’s the “Top 15” that really spoke to me in their entirety. That said, these other films are certainly worth mentioning (also in alphabetical order): A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD, BOMBSHELL, CLEMENCY, DARK WATERS, GLORIA BELL, HONEY BOY, HOPE GAP, HOW TO BUILD A GIRL (here’s Beanie again!!), THE KINGMAKER, MARRIAGE STORY (sometimes I want to switch this with JOJO RABBIT), STRAIGHT UP, VARDA BY AGNES, and WAVES.
For the sake of trivia, here are the top 3 highest grossing films of 2019 at THE NEON:
#1 – JOJO RABBIT. #2 – DOWNTON ABBEY. #3 – HARRIET. (LITTLE WOMEN could possibly join the list, but it will be split between 2019 and 2020.)
Wishing everyone a happy and prosperous New Year.
See you at the movies,
In the past few days, we’ve made some big decisions as to our plans for the next several weeks. Some of our upcoming films have local connections, some are certain to be best picture contenders, and many are full of stars we love to see on screen. One thing is clear about each – it’s Oscar season!
Today was my last full day of movies, and it was a strong selection.
HONEY BOY was my first film of the day – directed by Alma Har’el and written by Shia LaBeouf (did you see his performance in THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON at THE NEON over the last few weeks?). “Actor and screenwriter Shia LaBeouf mines his own life in this confessional collaboration with director Alma Har’el, about the stormy childhood and early adult years of an actor struggling to reconcile with his abusive father (played by LaBeouf himself).” (taken from TIFF catalog) This tough story of the “bad boy” actor coming to terms with his upbringing is at times hard to watch – but certainly worth the ride. Performances across the board are strong – from the flashback scenes starring Noah Jupe (who is really fantastic) and LaBeouf to the more “current” scenes starring Lucas Hedges.
ROCKS – the title refers to the nickname of the main character – was up next. “British director Sarah Gavron (Brick Lane, Suffragette) returns with this intimate, honest portrait of a teenage girl who suddenly finds herself struggling to take care of herself and her younger brother.” (taken from TIFF catalog) I love when a film that is only minorly on my radar ends up blowing me away. I love this little gem. So rarely do we get stories about young black girls – and this one is strong and runs the emotional gamut. It’s honest, fresh, frustrating, complicated (though simply told) and full of life – sometimes jubilant and often heartbreaking. I hope this film gets a stateside release.
HOW TO BUILD A GIRL, my 31st film of the festival, was my last film of the day. “A working-class teenager (Beanie Feldstein) tries to reinvent herself as a hip London music critic, in this unconventional coming-of-age story based on British author Caitlin Moran’s semiautobiographical novel.” (taken from TIFF catalog) I felt like this film didn’t go over as well with the audience while I was loving it. There is a lot of really funny material – particularly in the first hour – that I felt others weren’t appreciating the way I did (you know that feeling when you’re the only one laughing). The dialog is sharp, and Feldstein is brilliant. But what starts as a charming and “innocent” film treads into adult territory as the main character is thrust into a grown-up atmosphere (which means the rating will keep the potential tween audience from seeing it theatrically). Sadly, as the film progresses, it starts to go in a rather predictable direction. That said, I felt like the film repaired some of its missteps by the end, and ultimately I found it quite satisfying. I left the film a much bigger fan of Beanie Feldstein. There is no trailer for this film yet…but here’s a little interview piece.
I met up with a couple friends for a last hurrah in the city and then came back to begin packing my bags. I have one more film early tomorrow morning, and then I’ll head to the airport.
Thanks for reading!
Hello Most Metro,
Things are winding down at TIFF. I’ve seen 28 films so far, and I have 1.25 days left. Today seemed like a “minor” day. Nothing extraordinary…but lots of tear to start off the day.
DADS, a sweet documentary, was my first film of the day. “Director Bryce Dallas Howard teams up with her father, Ron Howard, to explore contemporary fatherhood through anecdotes and wisdom from famous funnymen such as Will Smith, Jimmy Fallon, Neil Patrick Harris, and more.” (taken from TIFF catalog) This little film has a fantastic opening sequence – it’s funny, poignant, inclusive, and provokes reflection and introspection and brought me to tears right off the bat. There’s a lot to love about this little film, but it does lose some steam in the third act. (Am I getting old and tired, or do more and more films need recuts?) There is a lot of priceless material here, and the topic is valuable.
COMING HOME AGAIN was my next film. “A Korean American man cares for his ailing mother while trying to master her traditional cooking in the latest from Wayne Wang (The Joy Luck Club), based on Chang-rae Lee’s New Yorker short story.” (taken from TIFF catalog) This film starts out in a languid manner – lots of lingering shots without much happening (except everything is happening). A young man is caring for his mother who is dying of stomach Cancer, and the days stretch on with little happening – thus the pace. But eventually some old wounds start to surface, and some additional players enter the scene – and the performances are not of the same caliber. In the last 25 minutes, I felt like the film went off its quiet rails and not at all in a good way. I don’t see much box office life for this one.
LYREBIRD, my last film of the day, just got picked up by Sony Classics. “In Dan Friedkin’s directorial debut, a soldier and member of the Dutch resistance (Claes Bang) investigates stolen art in the wake of the Second World War, including a Vermeer sold to the Nazis by a flamboyant painter (Guy Pearce).” (taken from TIFF catalog) Based on a true story, this movie goes big (at least the score and some of the performances do) and the audience seemed to like it. The mystery at the first act’s core was an easy solve, and the movie changes genres a couple times. Though there were aspects of the story I appreciated, my final response was more of a shoulder shrug.
Thanks for checking in.
Tomorrow is my last full day of movies, and then I need to pack my bags…I head home after one movie on Saturday morning.
I got to sleep in today because my first film started later than usual, and I was glad I got an extra hour in bed. Here’s why: Last night had me attending my first true parties of the festival. First was a gathering with lots of LGBT industry folks – people in PR, critics, film buyers, distributors, programers, etc. It was a nice event, and I saw a handful of people I’ve met before and was introduced to a handful more – these parties are a lot about networking, so I’m glad I went. I was a little baffled that it was after 1:30 when I decided to leave, but upon arriving at my apartment, there was a party for A24 right across the street…and a friend had put my name on the list…so I had to check it out. Though it was “winding down,” it was still a pretty terrific party. I saw several people I knew (including some crossover from the earlier LGBT party), recognized numerous celebrities from films I’ve screened (WAVES, HARRIET, JOJO RABBIT, and more), and then I saw Jon Hamm. (swoon) This party was super casual and people didn’t seem to have their guards up…what a fun way to wrap up a great day.
MY ZOE was my first film of Day #7. “A recently divorced mother is driven to extremes in this seventh film by writer-director-actor Julie Delpy — a suspense drama unlike anything she has done before.” (taken from TIFF catalog) This film goes in a direction you’re not anticipating. It’s a very straight-forward drama – well-acted, solid script, etc…and then you start to realize some new-fangled, sci-fi technology…but maybe it’s not so sci-fi. This film will spur a lot of interesting dialog. (So many films at this year’s festival are about divorce and the strains they induce.)
THE KINGMAKER was my next film. “Acclaimed documentarian Lauren Greenfield (The Queen of Versailles) aims her lens at Filipino politician and former First Lady Imelda Marcos, who, despite disgrace, remains unbowed and enmeshed in her nation’s politics.” (taken from TIFF catalog) Imelda Marcos is a great subject. She’s funny, charming, charitable, and fumbles a bit. She seems like the crazy, rich aunt you never knew you had….until the truth starts pouring out. Greenfield set out to make a very different film, but the story you see unfolded before her, and she couldn’t stop filming. What was supposed to take a year or so took five years to make, and you simply can’t believe it. It’s political corruption like you’ve never seen…and the gullible public who seem to keep inviting it in. This is a cautionary tale! During the very interesting Q&A, Greenfield said that Imelda would answer every question she ever asked except one. She wouldn’t answer “How do you feel about Donald Trump?” I’m so glad my friend Charlie suggested I see this film. He’s the person who suggested I see FREE SOLO and BIGGEST LITTLE FARM last year…and look what happened to those!
Though HUSTLERS doesn’t initially seem like a film I’d be screening at TIFF, a critic friend told me that it’s much better than the trailer alludes…and that JLo could garner an Oscar nomination. So, I found a way to squeeze it in…only to arrive and the venue and find out that the projector won’t start due to an AC issue. This just goes to show that no venue is surefire – technical issues happen everywhere. Thus I’ll have to wait and see HUSTLERS when it gets a theatrical release. “Inspired by a 2015 New York Magazine article that went viral, Hustlers follows a savvy crew of former strippers who band together to turn the tables on their Wall Street clients. Starring Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, and Julia Stiles.” (taken from TIFF catalog)
LUCY IN THE SKY was my last film of the day. “After returning to earth, an obsessive astronaut (Natalie Portman) begins to question her place in the universe — including her relationships with her gentle husband (Dan Stevens) and her alluring crewmate (Jon Hamm) — in the debut feature from accomplished television showrunner Noah Hawley (Fargo, Legion).” (taken from TIFF catalog) During the first few minutes, I liked what I was seeing. The sound design (and especially lack of sound) was great, the idea of someone returning from space and not knowing how to reintegrate was an interesting idea…but things got muddy pretty quickly. Perhaps I wasn’t in the right mind frame, but at the end of the day, I think this film is a mess. More and more directors are playing with aspect ratio these days (though never as well as Xavier Dolan or Wes Anderson), and though some scenes had motivation for a change in ratio, the director admitted that sometimes he just wanted to play. And it shows – the shifts simply don’t make sense. And there’s more that doesn’t make sense. At one moment, when Portman is purchasing items in a hardware department, she reaches over and grabs a wig…duct tape, hammer, box cutter, wig…makes no sense! I realize this film is about a woman in the midst of an existential crisis, but I ultimately didn’t care about anyone. The accent is bad, the Dorothy Hamill haircut is bad, some of the green screen work is bad. I rolled my eyes and shook my head numerous times during this film….and I’m ultimately sad that such a lackluster film has happened to such a great distributor.
Only 2+ more days.
Off to bed.
Thanks for reading,
I’m now well beyond the half-way mark, and today’s 4 screenings took my grand total to 22 films so far…this means I’ll certainly hit the 30+ mark for this year’s TIFF.
AERONAUTS was my first movie of the day. “The Theory of Everything costars Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones reunite for Tom Harper’s high-flying tale about a 19th-century scientist and hot-air balloonist making altitudinal and meteorological history.” (taken from TIFF catalog) This thrilling adventure is a little too “easy,” but it is also rather fun. That said, I can’t imagine watching it on a television screen at home – the thrills are best felt on a big screen with a great sound system. Redmayne and Jones are charming as can be, and though the costumes are sometimes a little “too much,” I felt like there’s certainly an audience who will revel in this tale – and cheer for the bold and brave female character in the central role.
Though it’s getting a wide release that won’t include us at THE NEON, I had to go see THE GOLDFINCH – based on one of my favorite novels of the past several years. “Theo Decker (Ansel Elgort) was only 13 when his mother died in a museum bombing, sending him on an odyssey of grief and guilt, reinvention and redemption. Through it all, he holds on to one tangible piece of hope from that terrible day: a priceless painting of a bird chained to its perch, The Goldfinch. The latest from John Crowley (Brooklyn) is based on Donna Tartt’s bestselling novel.” (taken from TIFF catalog) Though I felt like the film was off to a great start – making a lot of great decisions, this movie is one that actually needs more time. We meet too many characters and never get to know them…which in turn makes the material lose its heart. We never get too attached. The source material is more intended for a mini-series than a 140 minute feature film, and I’m sad to say that I don’t think this film will go too far.
The new documentary THE CAPOTE TAPES was my third screening of the day. “Newly discovered interviews with friends of Truman Capote made by Paris Review co-founder George Plimpton invigorate this fascinating documentary on the author (and socialite) behind Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood, while situating Capote in the 20th-century American literary canon.” (taken from TIFF catalog) There is so much to love about this film – because at its center is the brilliant, hysterical, and tormented Truman Capote. The interviews are divine, but the piece starts to lose steam in the last 30 minutes. Though there’s not much room in the “marketplace” for an hour-long documentary (too long for a short and too short for a feature), it would be a much stronger piece at 1 hour. That said, there’s so much good material here…but unfortunately, the director had to use cutaways because evidently there aren’t enough photos to put on screen during the tape recorded interviews…so he resorts to tracking shots of dinner plates, silverware and crystal goblets – thus so many visuals are uninteresting and do nothing for the story. Luckily, interviews are great – so I stuck with it…and feel I know Truman a bit better.
The premiere of HARRIET, the very first feature film ever made about Harriet Tubman, was my last film of the night. “Tony-winning Broadway actor Cynthia Erivo stars in Kasi Lemmons’ inspiring biopic about renowned abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who escaped slavery and risked her life to lead others to freedom through the network of safehouses known as the Underground Railroad.” (taken from TIFF catalog) From seeing the trailer, I was a little fearful that this film was going to be too polished and not raw enough. And though I think it could still use a little more indie grit, the story did indeed envelop me. Kasi Lemmons explained that they decided not to use the often seen violent tropes of other slavery stories, they wanted to focus on this movie being about freedom. Though we know some of what characters have suffered, we aren’t forced to watch it as with other recent films about slavery like 12 YEARS A SLAVE or BIRTH OF A NATION. Instead, we get an adventure film with a true woman – a human being, not a super hero – who saves lives and should inform us all. Though there were some devices that I thought wore a little thin, I still was completely invested in the story and loved learning more about this American Hero…and having many from the cast do a Q&A was incredibly insightful and all the more powerful. This film really got the crowd going, and I think it will be well received in Dayton, too.
I’m getting this done a bit earlier than usual…and heading out to a party or two tonight. My first screening isn’t until Noon tomorrow, so sleeping in is a possibility.
Thanks for checking in!
Hello Most Metro!
Today was my fullest day so far. I’m so glad I had an auxiliary battery for my phone.
MARRIAGE STORY was my first film of the day. “Academy Award nominee Noah Baumbach’s incisive and compassionate portrait of a marriage breaking up, and a family staying together, stars Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver, and co-stars Laura Dern, Alan Alda, and Ray Liotta.” (taken from TIFF catalog) Within the first five minutes of this film, I wrote “It’s incredible” in my notes. The script is fantastic, the performances are right on, and material is taxingly honest, and the supporting cast are lovely additions to the mix. At one point, I felt like “this is getting to be too long” (a feeling I’ve had numerous times this year), but then I reconciled it by thinking “getting a divorce is tedious and insufferable – so maybe that’s the point…perhaps it suits the material to be a little too drawn out. In a very clever marketing strategy, there are actually 2 trailers for MARRIAGE STORY…watch both in one sitting below.
After my first screening, I went to a delightful hour+ event in which Allison Janney was interviewed about her career – along with clips that illustrated some of her cinematic touchstones. This was a pretty hot ticket, and Allison’s mother Macy was the person who scored the ticket for me. In the coming days, I believe that TIFF will post this interview on-line, and I’ll make sure to share the link with you if I find it. Allison is funny, smart, gracious and a great storyteller – it was a delight to hear some of her personal history.
After listening to Allison, I got to see her new film – BAD EDUCATION. “Hugh Jackman, Allison Janney, and Ray Romano star in this fact-based dramedy directed by Cory Finley (Thoroughbreds), about an infamous school-larceny scandal that rocked Long Island in the early aughts.” (taken from TIFF catalog) This film is pretty terrific (though I questioned some of the motivation for the queer content)! The story’s upsetting subject matter is handled in such an interesting fashion and Jackman’s performance is unlike any I’ve seen him give before. Janney is also in top form, and I think this film will get snatched up in no time. Below is the image being used with this film…there is no trailer yet.
THE TRUTH – with two leading ladies I adore – was next on my list. “Acclaimed director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s (Shoplifters, Like Father, Like Son) first film made outside his native Japan stars Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche as a mother and daughter in the film industry whose professional collaboration triggers long-buried resentments.” (taken from TIFF catalog) My “review” of this film might be a little unfair because I was a bit tired when I walked into this screening. The first half hour was pretty wonderful, but then my eyes got very heavy and I fought to stay awake. Ultimately, I kept feeling like I wanted the pace to pick up – but maybe that was just my exhaustion speaking…or maybe it was a little too slow. At the end of the day, I think it’s a nice film…but it won’t get the roll-out that SHOPLIFTERS did for this director.
TWO POPES was my last film of the day. Fernando Meirelles and Jonathan Pryce and others from the team introduced the film, and Meirelles said that the reason he likes Pope Francis so much is because he wants to build bridges when so many leaders want to build walls. Of course that deservedly got a huge round of applause. “In 2013, progressive incoming Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce) and conservative outgoing Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins) debate the best path forward for the Catholic Church, in this surprisingly funny chamber piece from Oscar-nominated director Fernando Meirelles (City of God).” (taken from TIFF catalog) That description kinda sums up the film…but not really. It’s not just a chamber piece, it’s a pretty big, fully realized film with two incredible central performances. I’m not a Catholic, thus I can never understand the ways of the church, but I’ve always felt like the regality surrounding the papacy seems to contradict some of the church’s messaging…and it appears that Pope Francis holds a similar sentiment. This film made me appreciate him more. Through flashbacks and archival footage, we get a much bigger picture than just two Popes chatting. Though the film loses a little steam in its third act, I think audiences will nonetheless adore it. I hope Netflix does a theatrical release – more than just a couple cinemas. (I personally know many people who don’t subscribe to Netflix who would love to see this movie.)
It’s time to call it a night. Four more films are on the docket for tomorrow.
Thanks for checking in!