- Category: Movie Reviews
- Written by Gilbert Seah
BEST 10 FILMS of 2019 by Gilbert Seah
Of the 400 or so films I have watched in 2019, these are the 10 best of the year. The list has been made from films that have been released commercially from January 2019 to February of 2020. Reason is that a film released in Jan of 2020 would have lost lost its appeal by the next year.
Of the list, there are a few that many would have missed or not heard of, the ones I called hidden gems. Two of these are in the list as marked by asterisks.
The list of films are in order of preference, with short descriptions. Full reviews of the films can be found at the site;
with the title of the film in the ‘SEARCH’
BEST FILMS OF 2019
Best Picture (in order):
1917 (UK/USA 2019) ***** Top 10
Directed by Sam Mendes
Clearly the best film I have seen in 2019 - hands down - in terms of action, cinematography, direction, performances an art direction. There is no greater pleasure than watching an almost perfect piece and 1917 is a minor masterpiece. The story or film is based on, according to the closing credits to stories told by Lance Corporal Alfred Mendes to director Sam Mendes as grandfather to grandson. The situation is that Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) are two Lance Corporals – and messengers. They have to deliver an urgent message that if not delivered would results in a catastrophe of thousands of deaths of British soldiers. The most amazing achievement is the film’s cinematography by Richard Deakens which is stunning from start to finish.
LES MISERABLES (France 2019) ***** Top 10
Directed by Ladj Ly
A most arousing contemporary film set in today’s troubled world with a bonus message to boot. What begins with the celebration of France’s World Cup eventually turns sour with the theft of a lion cub (that is the cutest and the real LION KING) from an East European circus by an African kid. Three Paris cops, a black, a white racist and a rookie attempt to calm the racial tensions in the Muslim neighbourhood where the thief resides. When the kid is flashed shot in the face, a riot on police brutality erupts. Director Ly exhibits brilliant writing (he co-wrote the script) and excellent camera word while steering superlative performances from all his actors. His totally gripping film will undoubtedly keep one on the edge of one seat right to be very end where surprises and twists in the plot abound. France’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.
LA GOMERA (THE WHISTLERS) (Romania/Germany/France 2019) ***** Top 10
Directed by Corneliu Porumboiu
The foreign title of the film is the name of the island - LA GOMERA. The English title THE WHISTLERS refer to the people that speak the land’s native tongue, a language totally formed out of whistling - a whistling langauge called El Silbo Gomera. Cop Cristi (Vlad Ivanov) learns to speak this language from his Spanish-speaking Mafioso ‘friends’ so that he can communicate with them without the knowledge of the cops who has every place under surveillance including Cristi’s home. The story unfolds in 8 chapters each one (except for one called El Silbo Gomera) named after a character in the story. It is the attention to detail and the outrageous plot unfolding in absolutely dead seriousness with style and wit that makes Porumboiu’s film so deliciously wicked and entertaining. And the greatest marvel it all? When Gilda whistles at the end of the movie, the audience understands what she is saying.
THE IRISHMAN (USA 2019) ****
Directed by Martin Scorsese
The Irishman is an epic saga of organized crime in postwar America told through the eyes of World War II veteran Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), a hitman who worked alongside some of the most notorious underworld figures of the 20th century. Spanning decades, the film chronicles the disappearance of legendary union boss Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) — which remains unsolved to this day — and journeys through the hidden corridors of organized crime: its inner workings, rivalries, and connections to mainstream politics. The film uses CGI to ‘youthify’ De Niro, Pesci and Pacino for their character in their younger days. This de-ageing process looks effective enough to enable the 75 year-old actors to play their younger years. THE IRISHMAN is a must-see crime drama, not because it is true or could be true, but for Scorcese’s craft with the Master is still at his peak.
BOOKSMART (USA 2019) ***** Top 10
Directed by Olivia Wilde
BOOKSMART is a high school teen comedy centring on two female best friends Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) who have both studied hard and managed to get into the best college. When they discover that their classmates also enter colleges like Stanford and Harvard but have spent their time partying instead of studying like them, they freak out and decide to do one big unforgettable party before they graduate the next day. The big task to find that big party. While they venture the night, the unexpected happens. The film benefits from the skilful comedic writing team of Emily Halpern, Sarah Hskins, Susanna Fogel and Katie Silberman. Besides being hilariously funny with laugh out loud moments throughout the entire film, the film covers current key issues like coming out in high school, bullying, coming-of-age, stereotypes, doing good in third world countries like Africa and high school education. The film proudly demonstrates how cool it is to be gay - a positive image that teens who go see this film will appreciate. The comedic set-ups are inventive working well in line with the main plot. Olivia Wilde’s BOOKSMART is nothing short of brilliant and the first film on my Top 10 list of 2019.
RICHARD JEWELL (USA 2019) ****
Directed by Clint Eastwood
The film’s pleasure lies not in the story, that many are already aware of, from the news articles, but in the way the events are re-created on film, courtesy of veteran director Clint Eastwood (UNFORGIVEN, MILLION DOLLAR BABY), screenwriter Billy Ray and a stellar cast delivering winning performances including relative newcomer Paul Walter Hauser as the titular Richard Jewell. The film chronicles the life of Richard Jewell during the events that led to a bomb attack at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. Jewell then heroically saves lives after a bomb was detonated during the 1996 Summer Olympics. However, the FBI identifies him as one of many suspects and this leads to his unjust vilification by journalists and the press. The FBI cleared him after 88 days. RICHARD JEWELL is the story of a hero, not a fictitious one found in perhaps the Marvel alternative universe but one that lives, suffers and experiences life as a human being does on the Planet Earth.
MARRIAGE STORY (USA 2019) ****
Directed by Noah Baumbach
The master of dysfunctional dramas, Noah Baumbach’s (THE SQUID AND THE WHALE, THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES) latest outing is a break-up story of two people still very much in love. MARRIAGE STORY tells both points of view of the love an break up of Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver). The story takes most often Charlie’s side. They wish to separate on friendly times but things get ugly when they hire lawyers (Ray Liotta and Laura Dern) to what they think might easy the breakup process. It is Driver who steals the show especially in the confrontation seen that might just win him the Best Actor Oscar. An additional bonus is the excellent written and executed court scene where their two lawyers battle it out.
PARASITE (South Korea 2019) ****
Directed bu Bong Joon-ho
PARASITE tells the story of two families, one rich and one poor. The poor one slowly but surely takes over the rich none just as a parasite, hence the film’s title. This is a vertical story of class struggle — punctuated by staircase scenes going from mouldy basements to top floors, from darkness to breezy spaces designed by star architects. — Parasite observes and dissects with surgical precision the life of two families of different social backgrounds. The story takes a wild totally unpredictable twist where the class struggle story turns into a wicked farce. All the events take place amidst a huge flood take wreck the poor family’s dwelling. The ending is a little marred by slow preaching but Bong's film has at this point already accomplished what he had intended in what is supposed to be an ‘unplanned’ film.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN … HOLLYWOOD (USA 2009) ****
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Quentin Tarantino’s 9th and last film, ONCE UPON A TIME IN … HOLLYWOOD follows the misadventures of has-been star Rick Danton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double and best friend Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) set in 1969 Hollywood. The action takes place in three separate days on February the 8th and 9th and August the 8th, the night of the Charles Manson murders. There are just so many impressive plusses in the film. DiCaprio exhibits the paranoia and childishness of a spoilt star while in perfect contrast Pitt plays the super-cool macho stuntman that supports Dalton but at the same time needs him for employment - a excellent irony of a relationship. Their relationship unfolds in the background of the infamous Charles Manson murders which included the death of Roman Polanski’s wife, Sharon Tate. Or so it seems. The film contains lots of references to the late 60’s films (as the film is set in 1969) that those growing up during those times will find particularly nostalgic. No Tarantino film has failed to surprise and this film is no exception.
JOJO RABBIT (USA 2019) ***1/2
Directed by Taika Waititi
JOJO RABBIT follows the protagonist, a German boy, a Nazi fanatic given the nickname of JoJo Rabbit (Roman Griffin Davis) during a Nazi training camp for failure to kill a rabbit in order to prove his loyalty to the Führer. It is not an easy task to make a tasteful film with Nazi Germany in the setting and a fanatic Führer young boy as the lead. But director Waititi’s film succeeds due to is clever brand of humour. The film contains many laugh-out loud moments demonstrating director Waititi’s keen sense of humour. Roman Griffin Davis is a real find as the 10-year old boy while Australian comedienne Rebel Wilson keeps popping up multiple points in the film as different characters ranging from Nazi trainer to Nazi secretary to Nazi masseuse providing additional laughs. All the actors appear to speak english with the perfect German accent. JOJO RABBIT turns out to be a harmless really funny comedy with a message to boot.
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