Another year, another list. Hello, welcome to my top ten list. Who am I? I’m BaeBae, baby. BaeBae is short for Robaebae, which is a nickname for Robby, which is a nickname for Robert, in case you didn’t already know. I’ve been a part of Story Screen for about four years now, and I wear a few different hats for the little movie blog that could. I’m Co-head of telecommunications, which means I help bring Story Screen Presents, (our series of various podcasts featuring talented hosts and guests) to all of the podcast services found on the mysterious ethereal plane known as the interwebs. I’m also a frequent contributor to the articles and reviews sections of our website, so if you want to read about why I didn’t like Dark Phoenix, or why I love how queer Ex Machina is, you can find those and many more written opinions here (storyscreenbeacon.com). I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Story Screen also has its very own movie theater, and I’ll give you one guess as to where it is. I’m one of the Co-managers there as well, so I help with day to day operations, with a team of wonderful folk. I guess you can say I’m fairly invested in the brand. This is the third top ten list I’ve written for Story Screen, and I also like to explain my philosophy behind making such a list. This isn’t a list of the BEST movies of the year, this is a list of MY FAVORITE movies of the year. Just because 1917 isn’t on my top ten list, doesn’t mean I do not think it SLAPS very hard, I just have certain tastes, and certain types of movies I like to shout out; so don’t @ me. Alright, I think we have all the bases covered: I’m BaeBae, this is a list of movies I dig, don’t @ me, alright, let's get right into it...
10. Marriage Story “Criminal lawyers see bad people at their best, divorce lawyers see good people at their worst.”
Who doesn’t love being sad for a few hours? Sometimes it takes some well structured, cinematically imposed sadness to distract you from your own regular brand of sadness. I cried about three times during Noah Baumbach’s Divorce Marriage Story, and I had something in my eye for all of the other moments of the film. I’m not a married man, and my parents are still happily together, so I was pleasantly surprised when I opened my hundredth tissue box during the film. Luckily, your life doesn’t need to be too adjacent to the subject matter to connect to these stories, and perhaps the greatest strength of this post-love story is the way it coaxes you into relating to our two protagonists. Scar-Jo and Adam WideMan aren’t necessarily in opposition to one another; the antagonists of the film are the legal, financial and cold processes of divorce in our modern age. For a film filled with so many tear-jerkers, it is also punctuated with amazing moments of laughter and brevity. Marriage Story doesn’t make the audience choose a side, you aren’t team Scarlett or team Adam, (unless of course your own personal baggage steers your emotional ship) but in my opinion, the film does an excellent job of making our two protagonists feel justified in what they want. Their feelings are valid, and even when they are in opposition to one another, I truly understood both sides. It’s when lawyers get involved and money is on the table, when cold logistics reigns its frost covered head, that the ugliest moments of the film arise. I don’t know if Marriage Story’s objective was to make me more afraid of marriage by making me terrified of divorce but…here we are. Marriage Story isn’t a complete downer despite its subject matter, in fact, I think it finds a level of hope in its realism. I highly recommend this sweet, honest tale of love morphing in appreciation, and I highly recommend all of the memes that come with it.
9. Luce “It’s like I only get to be a saint or a monster!”
There are no easy answers by the end of Luce, just a bed of comfortable lies we see our characters laying in. The film was adapted by director Julius Onah, from a play of the same name written by J.C. Lee. The film's stage roots are apparent in this character driven drama through and through. It’s the power of cinema that takes this theatrical energy to new heights, creating one of the best psychological thrillers I’ve seen all year. The film's core cast is stellar: Octavia Spencer plays Harriet Wilson, teacher to all-star student Luce, played by Kelvin Harrison Jr., who balances sinister with sincere, almost like a controlled Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Tim Roth and Naomi Watts play Luce’s adoptive parents, and they delicately dance on an actor's tightrope, occasionally having to shift weight between fearing and loving their son. The film’s expert pacing is what raises this film to almost noir levels of tension. As the stakes get higher and higher, as Harriet Wilson attempts to catch Luce in what she believes to be a massive conspiracy and attack against her, my little butt scooted farther and farther to the edge of my seat. Despite the mystery of whether or not Luce is behind some dastardly activities, you feel for his moral claustrophobia. A boy of color from a war-torn country is an unfortunate canvas for Western society. At Luce’s core is a story that rails against binaries, that rejects being put into categories, and won’t conform to the boxes that other people put them in. Luce ends in the most frustrating way possible, and it’s brilliant, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying one of the most thrilling yet intimate movies of the year.
8. Her Smell “Promise me mama, when I die, have the coffin arrive half an hour late and on the side written in gold letters: Sorry for the delay.”
Her Smell has a vibe so strong it almost becomes a 4D movie. The film’s shaky cam follows the unstable Becky Something, played by Elisabeth Moss, frontman for the legendary punk band Something She. The first hour or so of film is an uncomfortably close perspective of a rock and roll family falling apart, and as we weave in and out of the backstage halls we can almost smell the stale beer, taste the stagnant cigarette smoke, and feel the vibration of the roaring crowd that won’t be satiated until their hero hits the stage. The film feels like it’s so intimately in your face you might say, “Please back up, you’re spilling blood on my shoes.” It’s a story of fame, fame lost, fame gained again, as well as a story about identity; when you strip away the drugs the money and the persona, what do you still have? Luckily, the answer seems to be the thing that gets you into this mess: your art. Becky has to learn to turn the volume down on herself, down so she can be the person she needs to be, not only for her punk rock family, but her daughter. The score of this punk rock story does an excellent job of weaving its way into the film’s discomforting vibe: cords that don’t make “sense,” sprinkled in ominous roars sounds, like a stringed instrument is slowly going insane. Her Smell is a wild movie that’ll make you uncomfortable, but it is so worth the watch to see Elisabeth Moss absolutely KILL IT in a role you didn’t expect.
7. Midsommar “I think I ate one of her pubic hairs.”
Somehow I got tricked into seeing another Ari Aster horror movie. As I mentioned last year, the Story Screen Family has a funny way of getting me to see horror movies. You could imagine my dismay when I found out we weren’t catching an advanced screening of Toy Story 4, no no, we were in fact going to watch “spooky but daytime,” AKA Midsommar. When I realized the grave error I’d made I tried to leave, but alas, I had already been chained to my seat. Though unlike 2018’s OMEGA DOWNER and Aster’s first big foray into film, Hereditary, I think this movie ends on a little bit of a positive note (although it certainly comes with some collateral damage). Midsommar is something else man, a trippy horror narrative that takes place only during the day, making the night feel comforting. The film is restrained, pushing the horror genre in interesting directions, making its slow burn feel so nice you forget you’re getting burnt. The cast of this movie is FANTASTIC, a group of friends that are a school of fish out of water, but it’s Florence Pugh that stands apart from the rest; she is the emotional anchor of Midsommar. Much like Hereditary before it, this film is rich with lore, everything is woven into the background production design, which lends itself to multiple viewings and discussions with friends, trying to decipher the mysterious culture that serves as the backdrop of the film. Midsommar was one of the first flicks of the year that I immediately knew would be one of my favorites of 2019, and warning to the hetero dudes out there: if you’re planning on watching this with your significant other be prepared for an awkward conversation afterwards.
6. Knives Out “A donut hole in the donut’s hole…”
Rian Johnson’s ‘whodunnit’ has the architecture of a classic, but is filled with modern flair making it one of the most polished and delightful films of 2019. Johnson’s ability to break down genres and put them back together remains as brilliant as ever. He’s broken down Noir (2005's Brick), Science Fiction (2012's Looper), and he did it with Star Wars: The Last Jedi, by breaking down the conventions and trappings of the 40 year running saga. By the end of Knives Out’s first act, the audience realizes that this film is not going to go the way you think. By subverting its own paradigms, the movie reinvigorates itself, making something that you may have seen done time and time again, new and unexpected. The film features an all star cast playing the illustrious Thrombey family, making their squabbles and quirks some of the best dialogue this year. The film operates like a perfectly oiled machine, with all of its intricate parts moving in perfect synchronicity. A performance hidden from the trailers is Ana de Armas as Marta Cabrera, who is one of the best characters this year, and it is her sincerity that helps fully tilt the conventional aspects of the film into anything but. Knives Out is exciting, full of energy and probably has the strongest cast of any film all year. I always look forward to what genre Johnson chooses to break down next, but with characters so rich I hope this isn’t the last time we see Detective Benoit Blanc.
5. Honey Boy “Make me look good, Honey Boy.”
At this point, everyone has heard of Shia LaBeouf: “Oh yeah, he’s that actor who went crazy,” some might say, “I loved him on Even Stevens,“ a 90’s kids would bring up. “The Transformers kid?” Dads may remark. The thing is: Shia is all of those things and so much more, and Honey Boy is the therapy for every step of it. There was a good chunk of time where Shia was written off by some (myself included) as one of those pretentious actors whose news stories of public outbursts and drunken fits were all a part of some larger, meta performance art. But nah, Shia has demons, deep dark demons, that add some credence to all of those stereotypes about child actors. Honey Boy is Shia’s intimate opus: a work of art that is also a window through which people can really see him. What I love about the film is its genuine honesty; the film feels powered by truth, even the more surreal moments. The film deals with Shia’s attempts to get sober, but also tries to isolate what led him down this dark path. Turns out, it’s PTSD from his abusive relationship with his father. Honey Boy deals with generational trauma, Shia grew up in a fucked up household because Shia’s dad also grew up in a fucked up household, and even Shia’s grandma grew up in a fucked up household. We learn to have sympathy for Shia’s father, but never to excuse him for what he did, because understanding is not the same as forgiveness. I can’t imagine what it was like for Shia to play his own abusive father, but it’s clear that it was therapeutic for him, and audiences should feel honored and privileged to be allowed into someone's therapy session. Shia is having a good year; he has a kick-ass interview on Hot Ones, (a spicy interview show with hot questions and even hotter wings) and he is fantastic in the delightful Peanut Butter Falcon. I’m happy we’re seeing a version of Shia that hasn’t left his demons behind, but instead has absorbed them, worked with some of them, and has become all the stronger for it.
4. The Lighthouse “HAAAAAAAARRRRRRK!”
We showed this flick at the theater, and I was working the counter when someone walked out of the screening, about fifteen minutes before it ended, and asked: “Did you like this movie?” And I squawked like a seagull, a trickle of sea foam dribbling from the corner of my mouth. “Nothing is happening…” he seemed stunned that a film, an art form designed around THINGS that HAPPEN, was apparently doing nothing of the sort. “I don’t know much about film, but I could write a film about nothing happening.” He sipped on his beer and shuffled around the lobby until his friends excitedly left the theater and I would’ve paid one million dollars to hear how their post film conversation sounded.
Robert Eggers’ films are challenging to say the least, and it takes a certain kind of weirdo to jive with them. Luckily, I’m somewhat of a weirdo myself. The Lighthouse is magnificent. The plot of the film is loose, with revelations and reveals dolled out when tension becomes feverish. By time the film reveals its truths, you’re already mad, drinking the mysterious liquid that powers this phallic machination, lighting the way for NO ONE TO NO WHERE! HARRRRRRK. Sorry. The Lighthouse is as beautifully filmed as it is disgustingly set. You’ll feel dirty early on in the film, and then, demanded to sit there in your filth, you’ll work to understand what in the world is happening in this film. The thing is, a movie like The Lighthouse, isn’t about what's happening; it’s about interactions, and spending time trying to understand the film’s plot is a useless exercise. The Lighthouse is meant to be watched, to be lived in. Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe’s performances are like drunk fencers: sloppy parrys and exhausted ripostes that are informed by a masterclass level of training and discipline. The Lighthouse is a challenging film and not something I recommend to everyone, but if you choose to accept the challenge, try and stay in your seat until the end.
3. The Farewell “It’s a good lie.”
I just watched the trailer for The Farewell to try and jog my memory of the film a bit, and I started tearing up. This movie is something very special. For me, the film acts as a bridge to a culture that admittedly, I do not know a ton about. Awkwafina is the perfect audience surrogate for this film. Her character, Billi, is struggling with her identity as Chinese woman who has spent most of her life in America. I was fascinated by the way a different culture handles things like death, grief, and even marriage. It was almost voyeuristic experiencing the film’s cultural differences from my own, but also its similarities. It’s a film about coming to terms with cultural traditions and customs, even if you don’t agree with them. The older I get, the more concerned I’m becoming with death, whether it be my own or the death of my loved ones, but this movie, for at least a moment, helped with some of those anxieties. It’s nice to see how another culture understands death and how they choose to deal with it, and to see the ways they also fear it. Despite how regionally different humanity can be, some things remain the same between all of us. There’s a camaraderie in death; we all experience it at some point. Though my description may sound dower, this film truly is a delight to watch, and it spends most of its runtime on an emotional high that left me smiling the entire time. At its core premise, a family trying to perpetuate a lie for the greater good can sound like a hard pill to swallow, but The Farewell does its best to teach you the nuances of this lie and the good it can do.
2. Parasite “They are nice because they are rich.”
What more can I say about Parasite that hasn’t already been said, ya know? The Korean drama that seemed to occupy all film conversations for the better part of 2019, Parasite, is in fact, a masterpiece. Bong Joon Ho has been known to tackle the subject of class before, and it’s clear that homeboy has OPINIONS about it. Parasite feels very much like other Bong Joon Ho films, his ability to turn metaphor into reality using cinema is a skill he’s honed for many films now, but Parasite is a much more grounded version of that skill set that elevates this film to what many folks consider to be the best film of 2019. The film doesn’t really feature heroes or villains, they are just people who belong to the true antagonist of the film: the societal hierarchy we all live in today. The moral compass of Parasite is quite open to debate, and it goes beyond, “poor people good, rich people bad.” The film feels so real, even during its crazier cinematic moments, pitting poor against poorer, while exploring the psyche of the privileged. The Park family home is an organism, a host to what some would consider parasites, until a new infection comes in. This premise is not all that different than another Bong Joon Ho film, the graphic novel adaptation: Snowpiercer, where all of society lives on an ever running train, with the wealthy in the front and poor in the back. I bring this up because this is exactly what Bong Joon Ho is so good at: making the metaphor a reality, and Parasite is his best take on this idea yet. I will also take any chance to talk about Snowpiercer that I can get, so excuse me. I think this film is deserving of all of its praise, and I look forward to the lessons on class Bong Joon Ho decides to give us next.
1. Uncut Gems “This is how I win.”
Danny J. Sanchez takes pictures of the inside of opals. When you go to his website (dannyjsanchez.com) you can see that these photos look almost like they’re from another galaxy, as if through a telescope he was able to take pictures of interstellar wisps and dancing celestial bodies. But no, these images are found on earth, captured by looking through one gem and seeing through to the other side; it’s like seeing what hundreds of years look like, condensed in a reflection. These images by Danny J. Sanchez inspired the intro sequence of Uncut Gems, as we travel from Ethiopian miners to New York City, all through the opal super highway. Uncut Gems is like seeing a slice of someone's history, specifically jeweler Howard Ratner, played by Adam Sandler. I think the film is brilliant, and somehow, Adam Sandler, who I would’ve thought is the least likely human being to do such a thing, carries the entire film on his performance’s shoulders. The film’s premise is conventional, it’s a bit of a crime drama, a lot of risk and reward, betting and dealing, lying and stealing, but the housing for this story is anything but conventional. The score by Daniel Lopatin, feels more in line with what I described before. If the universe had intergalactic angels who could also get down with jazz, this is what they would sing. The aesthetic of the film feels gilded and pristine on the outside, but beneath it’s something rusty, maybe even a bit dirty. Howie’s whole scheme is that he flips things: he moves assets, he makes sales, he owns golden “ferbs,” and he wants to win. He might be a rich man, but who knows, money moves so quickly towards and away from him, it doesn’t seem to matter. But what he has to show for being a master schemer, a master liar, is a lot: huge Long Island home, beautiful New York City penthouse, nice Mercedes, but all of it isn’t real, it can all be taken away. The Safdie Brothers have created something inspired by films before it, but wholly unique in the way it is assembled. The film has a mood and vibe to it unlike any film I’ve seen all year. There are so many elements of the film that on paper should not jive together at all, but they all do, and it’s wonderful. In the midst of all these art house techniques, the energy of the scenes range from MANIC to DESPERATE. Characters yell and scream at each other, most scenes feature five to ten people shouting at each other all at once. It all works though. I wouldn’t believe a film like this could exist if I hadn’t already watched it (twice). Uncut Gems takes place within the Opal, it passes through its gems like a reflection, in and out, just as the light of time always has.
I love the Watchmen graphic novel with all of my little heart. When I heard we were getting an adaptation of the Alan Moore masterpiece I was skeptical. I’ve seen Watchmen on the big screen before and have been underwhelmed. There are many factors that prove that we live in the bad timeline, but even though our President is an actual piece of shit at least we have the best version of a Watchmen sequel that exists. Even trade? I dunno, but I’ll take what I can get. Damon Lindelof and his team have created something so informed by what came before, but they took it in such a bold new direction. Seeing characters like Adrian Veidt, Doctor Manhattan and Laurie Blake realized in live action felt genuine and true to the source material. But what is new in the world of Watchmen works so well: every new character, new theme, and even retcons to the source material work so well. It’s obvious to tell that the show was created by super fans of the graphic novel, and I can only hope more adaptations of its ilk will be the same. Word has recently surfaced that there won’t be a second season of Watchmen, but I’m cool with that. It's seriously one of the best shows I’ve seen this decade and I couldn’t be happier that it exists.
Another year, another list. Film is entering a new decade this year. Who knows that the next ten years of cinematic art will bring? All I know is, I’ll be here with the rest of the Story Screen Family, bringing you hot takes, spicy opinions, awkward bickering and so much more. Here’s to movies, because most other things are bad. Cheers.
Co-Head of Podcasting
Robert has a degree in Screenwriting and Playwriting and works in multiple genres. He's just your typical man-child who enjoys most things nerd culture. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @RoBaeBae