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,