2.05.2020

The Best Films of 2019

Honorable Mentions: 別告訴她 [The Farewell] (Lulu Wang), Avengers: Endgame (Anthony & Joe Russo), Alita: Battle Angel (Robert Rodriguez), The Irishman (Martin Scorsese), 기생충 [Parasite] (Bong Joon-ho), Atlantique [Atlantics] (Mati Diop)

10. Dragged Across Concrete, S. Craig Zahler
9. Wine Country, Amy Poehler
8. Uncut Gems, Benny & Josh Safdie
7. High Flying Bird, Steven Soderbergh
6. Her Smell, Alex Ross Perry
5. High Life, Claire Denis
4. Queen & Slim, Melina Matsoukas
3. Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese, Martin Scorsese
2. The Lighthouse, Robert Eggers
1. Dolor y gloria [Pain & Glory], Pedro Almodóvar

Where Almodóvar's camera is far more concerned with secondarily allowing a narrative play out in colorfully set medium shots and lingering close-ups, it is the director's driving passion for his craft that seeps through every last moment of "Pain & Glory" and makes for such a deeply affecting experience. Almodóvar's is a story of life's chances coming full circle - a deeply relatable reflection on the simultaneous love and agony that both feed and suffocate our endeavors, all projected in the eyes of a tender Antonio Banderas. It includes hardly any depiction of the actual production process, yet this is one of the greatest films about filmmaking.

When a film needs a theatrical disclaimer assuring there has been no mistake, that "it's actually supposed to look this way," you know it's going to be worthwhile. Eggers came to us with one of the very best horror films of the new millennium in "The Witch", and has now gone further to deliver an exponentially singular vision. Like heavy metal Carl Dreyer, like Béla Tarr's horse fucked Luis Buñuel's dog, "The Lighthouse" is a thorough nightmare of torment and insanity. Willem Dafoe is a titan, and the starkly elegant framing beholds him as such, while Robert Pattinson descends into a madness that further solidifies the must-see status he's earned.

Scorsese's best concert documentary since "The Last Waltz", the semi-fictionalized "Rolling Thunder Revue" is a hypnotizing, Malick-esque snapshot of the mid-'70s American zeitgeist through the luminaries and laymen in witness of an enigma whose nihilistic suppressiveness under public demand explodes away in front of a microphone.

An inspiriting feature debut for music video director Matsoukas, "Queen & Slim" brings the cinematic soul of the rebellious late '60s and the invigorating early '70s to a deceptively complex folk tale based upon today's still-open civil rights wounds.

The marriage of grounded personal quandary with symbolic exploration of the vast unknown is always ripe. Denis' first English language outing "High Life" brings a more specific scientific understanding of the cosmos' mysteries than is oft seen, resulting in bold imagery and affecting moments that remain long after the credits have rolled.

Like a punk rock Cassavetes with Elisabeth Moss as Gena Rowlands with a guitar, the raw "Her Smell" is a new artistic and emotional zenith for the versatile Perry.

"High Flying Bird" is yet another Soderbergh masterclass in awe-striking precision, and perhaps one of the mathematical genius' greatest navigations of script through lens to date.

As Ted Nugent plays his own feedback, the Safdies utilize traditionally excised background noise to create a sense of natural chaos that outweighs their apparent interest in elaborate insignificance. "Uncut Gems" steadily orchestrates a pressure that increases to a point well past what even its most hopeful fans could have anticipated. If Dustin Hoffman’s Ratso Rizzo had raised a son instead of, y’know, [the plot of “Midnight Cowboy”], that son would have been Adam Sandler’s Howard Ratman.

Though not perfectly even all the way through, Poehler's directorial debut "Wine Country" warmly reunites beloved "Saturday Night Live" cast members for that light comedy that seems to come every few years - the one that rises above its decided role as a technical softball through its humorously resonant truths. With laughs via reality-based observation and tongue-in-cheek reaction in nearly every character moment, like 2015's similarly cast "Sisters" this will be inviting to return to just for the fun of it.

The forebodingly titled "Dragged Across Concrete" is provocateur Zahler's most stripped-down yet most cruelly indulgent work yet - the marvelously manipulative amusements of a creator tooling with their audience before repeatedly punching them in the nose.

Complete 2019 rankings on Letterboxd (subject to change).

12.31.2019

The Best Films of the Decade (2010-2019)

957 films were considered for this list

Complete rankings by year viewable on Letterboxd (subject to change)
2019  |  2018  |  2017  |  2016  |  2015  |  2014  |  2013  |  2012  |  2011  |  2010

Honorable Mentions: Shame (Steve McQueen, 2011), Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt, 2016), Killer Joe (William Friedkin, 2012)

10. Resident Evil: Afterlife (Paul W.S. Anderson, 2010)
Which one of von Trier's five obstructions was a bulky 3D camera rig? After years of above-par blockbuster filmmaking, Anderson found his zenith when he locked down to the symmetry of shooting natively in 3D at the height of the fad's latest resurgence. "Afterlife" single-handedly proved to me that the controversial format can be utilized as a diorama-like composition tool and not just a thrill gimmick. The content is objectively take or leave, but I do personally very much enjoy the "Resident Evil" movies (as detailed many times over in the depths of this blog). In returning to the director's chair after letting others helm parts two and three of the first trilogy, it's honestly a boon to have the here "Æon Flux"-esque muse Milla Jovovich even more central to the affair with the already thinly cherry-picked video game basis sidelined that much further. Who could have guessed highly stylized zombie action movies could feel like true passion projects? After several similar yet lesser outings, Anderson would break from the cumbersome camera rigs for 2016's "Resident Evil: The Final Chapter", but "Afterlife" will almost certainly remain his most inspired work.


9. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Ethan & Joel Coen, 2018)
Leave it to the Coens to craft an anthology of remarkably different Western sub-genres written and adapted at different points in their overlapped career, then tie it all together in what is a coherently existential comment on the human condition as well as their most visually impressive film thus far. Each additional ingredient is as strong as in any of the brothers' best efforts, resulting in a thoroughly captivating comfort whether you're watching a whimsical musical number or an allegorical carriage ride to hell.


8. Drive (Nicholas Winding Refn, 2011
Yes, we knew 2011 was as great as it was while it was happening (supplemental shout-outs to Lars von Trier's "Melancholia", Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life", Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris", etcetera). Refn said he wanted to capture the feeling of driving at night while listening to music, and few directors have delivered so victoriously such a stripped-down concept. Almost ten years later "Drive" still feels as cool as ever, and is still the absolute peak of Refn's consistently must-see output - a modern go-to when correlating infectious mood, or the characterization of a tragic protagonist.


7. Young Adult (Jason Reitman, 2011)
Perhaps even less likely than a Paul W.S. Anderson movie appearing on any given best-of list is a Jason Reitman movie showing up, yet here we are. Contrary to how I feel about Anderson's work, I am not so generally keen on Reitman's. In fact, the prior collaboration of Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody wound up being one of my least favorite films of its own decade. Then the perfect storm that is the character Mavis Gary brought Reitman, Cody, and Charlize Theron to a shared page that wound up feeling sublimely familiar. Each reaction shot, each soundtrack cue, even each minor cut felt like it was done with my exact sensibility in mind. The enchantment cast by "Young Adult" was one I could not have shaken had I wanted to as I devoured every showing I could spare the time for during its theatrical run.


6. Dolor y gloria [Pain & Glory] (Pedro Almodóvar, 2019)
Where Almodóvar's camera is far more concerned with secondarily allowing a narrative play out in colorfully set medium shots and lingering close-ups, it is the director's driving passion for his craft that seeps through every last moment of "Pain & Glory" and makes for such a deeply affecting experience. Almodóvar's is a story of life's chances coming full circle - a deeply relatable reflection on the simultaneous love and agony that both feed and suffocate our endeavors, all projected in the eyes of a tender Antonio Banderas. It includes hardly any depiction of the actual production process, yet this is one of the greatest films about filmmaking.


5. Song to Song (Terrence Malick, 2017)
Malick's recent period focused on the modern, mostly manmade world did need to climb a hill of embrace through revisitation as it navigated "To the Wonder" and "Knight of Cups". Those films flourish as we let ourselves meld with the subject matter and the increasingly ethereal and musical editing of Emmanuel Lubezki's life-affirming cinematography. "Song to Song" completes this period as its pinnacle, as deep in a fever state of creation as Malick has gone, with the classic nature elements here feeling as other-worldly as the Baltic shores of Żuławski's"On the Silver Globe". To be fair, including a Patti Smith appearance can be chalked up as cheating when it comes to my lists.


4. The House that Jack Built (Lars von Trier, 2018)
Despite a strong respect for - and occasional love of - von Trier's decidedly boundary-pushing work, after feeling incredibly let down by "Nymphomaniac" the basic premise of this reportedly exploitative affair had me worried ol' Lars had finally gone off the deep end after taking too much criticism to heart. Thanks to some friendly encouragement that wall didn't stay up long, however, and I relished in what may in fact be the auteur's greatest feat yet. "House" uses the framework of a philosophical serial killer with a varied basis in true fact to sculpt a deep analogy for von Trier's own career and how his legacy is regarded. What could have come off akin to a Twitter tantrum winds up evolving into an immensely rewarding delve through what it means to be an unapologetic artist today. Each chapter gifts something new to chew on as the overarching threads develop, and the interpretable epilogue stands among my favorite sequences in all of cinema.


3. A Ghost Story (David Lowery, 2017)
There is something barely describable to Lowery's visual poem that examines a scope of human quandary, from grand and chaotic implications of mortality to the fleetingly consuming struggle of hauling an overstuffed suitcase across an uneven walkway. It is a journey of grief and whispers that instantly hooks and demands revisitation after revisitation. This is a film to buy real estate and retire in.


2. Inside Llewyn Davis (Ethan & Joel Coen, 2013)
So if you want to be in my top films of a decade, just have Carey Mulligan sing in a bar while the main character looks on pensively, I guess (see honorable mention for "Shame"). Apparently muted blue tones are also a plus. Also in your favor would be an intrinsic weaving of affecting music - in this case a soundtrack I still haven't removed from rotation no matter how many plays it gets. One of this film's two versions of folk standby "Dink's Song" was playing the moment my son was born. We nearly named the kid "Llewyn" but since we're not, y'know, Welsh, that name went to a cat we adopted a few years later (who now barfs all over our apartment in metaphoric tribute to his namesake). The Coens have always loved relatable dopes on odysseys from one ineffectual man behind a desk to the next, and with "Inside Llewyn Davis" they perfected their own formula. The filmmakers' passion for the material is felt through every last moment, and such passion is the greatest intangible any film can possess.


1. 山河故人 [Mountains May Depart] (Jia Zhangke, 2016)
In 2016 (or 2017 prior to the Academy Awards, as is my self-imposed cutoff), I called Kelly Reichardt's Paradise Valley-set "Certain Women" my favorite of the year. I had by that point seen and loved what was my first Jia, but it took a spontaneous desire to watch it again, and then again and again before I realized just how much I adore it compared to other incredible films as ranked on such lists as these. It's not 100% perfect (CGI plane crash), but even the maniacally meticulous Stanley Kubrick's greatest achievements have their minor flaws. This is Jia's culturally steeped work at its most loving. Between the words are where the true connections can be found, particularly in the first act which I have watched back even more times than the film as a whole. Jia looks both backward and forward into the significance of his homeland and how it generates defining ripples across generations, from geopolitical and technological tides down to a slight glance given to a would-be partner. "Mountains May Depart" is a conceptual risk that pays off in its broad strokes and its minutia.