From all current evidence, the seasons of the year have become subject to the whims of climate change, but there’s one annual time period that seems immutable to anything short of a writer’s strike: The movie industry’s awards season. True, the terrain has altered with the advent of blue-ribbon theatrical releases from the increasingly pervasive streaming services. The impact is already considerable, with Netflix having garnered best director, best cinematography, and best foreign-language film Oscars last year for Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma. And this year, the ante has been upped. Netflix movies that should be earning nominations include the domestic drama Marriage Story, Martin Scorsese’s gangster epic The Irishman, the documentary American Factory, and the animated feature I Lost My Body. Amazon may add to that list. As for my favorite movies of 2019, regardless of source, here are a lucky 13, in alphabetical order:
Director Sam Mendes, his crew, and an ensemble of renowned actors have achieved a superbly shot feat of you-are-there moviemaking that relentlessly follows a young British soldier during a perilous, tension-filled mission on the Western front in World War I.
This disturbing, thought-provoking drama centers on a prison warden (a fantastic Alfre Woodard) who oversees the execution by injection of condemned men, and begins to suffer under the burden — particularly when the guilt of one prisoner on Death Row is called into question.
Mark Ruffalo stars in this stirring, topical docudrama as a mild-mannered corporate attorney who turns crusader against a renowned chemical company revealed to be poisoning the environment and sickening the residents of a West Virginia factory town.
‘FORD V FERRARI’
The high-octane excitement of the Formula One track fuels director James Mangold’s sharp, sleek dramatization of the historic Grand Prix competition between Ford Motor Company, represented by legendary 1960s racecar designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), and the high-end Italian sports car manufacturer Ferrari.
A genuinely funny yet heartbreaking comedy about the Holocaust? Leave it to Taika Waititi of What We Do in the Shadows fame. Waititi not only wrote and directed this wild tale of a misfit German boy whose mother hides a Jewish girl from the Nazis, he also plays the boy’s imaginary friend: Adolf Hitler.
What starts out as an intimate, wrenching story of two sisters (Tessa Thompson and Lily James) struggling to survive in an economically ravaged upper Midwest town turns into an engrossing caper movie when one of the women, just out of jail, decides to smuggle drugs across the Canadian border to the United States to help the other hold onto the family home.
This mix of biography and drama examines the rise, corruption, and personal excesses of scandalous, now-disgraced Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and it’s a banquet of exquisite visuals and pointed humor, as expected from director Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty) who brings his trademark, latter-day Fellini-esque flair to the project.
It’s hard to imagine anyone who wouldn’t be moved by writer-director Noah Baumbach’s richly textured and unflinching portrayal of a once happy marriage in free fall. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are revelations as the playwright husband and actress wife in crisis, with their son caught in the middle.
In a lean, powerful drama set in the stark wilds of the American West and based on a real social rehabilitation program that enables convicts to train wild horses, Matthias Schoenaerts plays a violent con seething with anger until he finds his better self though kinship with a magnificent mustang that no one has previously been able to tame.
‘ONCE UPON A TIME … IN HOLLYWOOD’
Like the wish fulfillment of his World War II action flick Inglorious Bastards, Quentin Tarantino combines exacting period recreation and fairytale whimsy to his depiction of the brutal 1969 Manson Family murders, and benefits from peak performances by Leonardo DiCaprio as a TV star on the fade and Brad Pitt as his stuntman buddy.
Korea’s remarkable filmmaker Bong Joon-Ho has crafted a crazily brilliant combo of farce, social satire, fateful tragedy, and dark delights that scrutinizes class war, family dynamics and the potential for chaos when there’s a massive gap between the wealthy and the impoverished, here represented by the well-to-do Parks and the poor but canny Kims.
Having previously made the terrific crime dramedy Good Times, Josh and Benny Safdie deliver a mordantly witty, low-budget thriller about a New York jeweler with a gambling problem, a failing marriage, and leg-breakers on his tail due to all the money he owes. And that’s really Adam Sandler doing the best work of his career as the hapless jeweler.
Rising actress and singer Jessie Buckley carries this charming underdog-against-the-odds drama in breakout fashion as a young single mom from Glasgow who dreams of becoming a Nashville star despite her checkered past.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco
The Two Popes
MICHAEL’S SAVVY SEVEN DOCUMENTARIES
The Great Hack
Where’s My Roy Cohn?
MICHAEL’S TOP 10 FOREIGN LANGUAGE MOVIES
Birds of Passage
The Fall of the American Empire
Pain and Glory
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
MICHAEL’S SWEET SIX ANIMATED FEATURES
I Lost My Body
Toy Story 4
Weathering with You
MICHAEL’S NIFTY NINE GENRE FILMS
John Wick: Chapter 3: Parabellum
Ready or Not
Spider-Man: Far from Home
Michael Snyder is a print and broadcast journalist who covers pop culture on Michael Snyder’s Culture Blast, via GABnet.net, Roku, Spotify, and YouTube. You can follow Michael on Twitter: @cultureblaster