With the Oscars quickly approaching and releasing their vast list of nominees, 2019 has truly been an excellent year for movies. I can confidently say that some of the top films on this list have not only made 2019, but also deserve recognition as some of the best films of the last decade. Out of obligation to the multitude of notable releases, I added a few extra honorable mentions before revealing my number one pick.
10. The Lighthouse
The Lighthouse is a gripping period piece, following two nineteenth century lighthouse caretakers slowly losing their sanity to a remote island. The film is shot in black and white, adding a gritty, ominousness layer to the scenes. Certain aspects of The Lighthouse felt similar to Stephen King’s The Shining: the isolation, the perverted sexual scenes, and the audience watching the effects of cabin fever slowly overcome characters. As cabin fever madness distorts perspectives, you question the narrator’s reliability. It’s a mystery if what the audience sees is what’s really happening, or a hallucination of the characters going mad. Led by Willem DaFoe and Robert Pattinson, The Lighthouse is a slow terrifying burn, keeping the audience only guessing at what will happen next.
9. Brittany Runs a Marathon
Lose weight, and the rest of your life will turn around too! We’ve watched countless females on the screen become “better” characters after a makeover. There’s Anne Hathaway’s Mia Thermopolis straightening her hair in The Princess Diaries, Ally Sheedy’s “basket case” from The Breakfast Club receiving a makeover from Molly Ringwald, and Olivia Newton-John’s iconic transformation as Sandy from preppy school girl to black leather in Grease.
Paul Colaizzo’s Brittany Runs a Marathon isn’t simply a story about an unhappily single, unemployed, overweight woman trying to look better. This is a story of a transformation of self and personal growth. Brittany trains for the NYC marathon to improve her health, and to prove to herself that she can take control of her life. Brittany Runs a Marathon sends positive messages to its audience about body image and being healthy, without the classic Hollywood message of, “you’re thin, therefore successful.” The film is an inspirational, comedic, emotional true story of Brittany training, not just to win a marathon, but also to build the confidence to improve her life.
8. Toy Story 4
As someone who grew up enjoying Toy Story, it was easy to be skeptical about the quality of a fourth franchise nearly a decade after Toy Story 3. But even with big shoes to fill, Toy Story 4 succeeds as a wonderful continuation of the story with Bonnie. Forky’s personality can best be described as Frozen’s Olaf going through an existential crisis. Constructed from a spork and art supplies found in a kindergarten trash can, Forky is constantly running away from Bonnie and wrecking havoc for Woody. His emotions resonate deeper with audiences during his heart-to-heart talks with Woody about his purpose in life. Toy Story 4 answers questions of what truly makes a toy a toy.
Loosely based off the true stories told by his veteran grandfather, Sam Mendes directs a World War I epic about two British Corporals with an urgent message to deliver. The soldiers must cross no-man’s land to call off a British attack that the Germans secretly plan on ambushing. If the message isn’t delivered in time, over 1600 soldiers could perish, including Corporal Blake’s older brother. The music enhances the emotion of the scenes, without becoming an overpowering cacophony (something I think 2017’s Dunkirk could have improved upon). The early twentieth century costumes look very realistic to the time. While the story is a bit predictable, it’s a deeply moving film to watch on the brutality of war.
6. The Farewell
A heartfelt family comedy and drama, Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, centers around Chinese-American Billi learning of her grandmother’s stage 4 terminal lung cancer diagnosis. In an effort to spare the grandmother any emotional burden and follow their traditional collectivist values, Billi’s family does not tell the grandmother she only has several weeks to live. The family forges clean medical bills, and stages a wedding in China to serve as a place for the family to say their last goodbyes. “Chinese people have saying - when people get cancer, they die. It's not the cancer that kills them. It's the fear.” Director Lulu Wang based the story on her own family’s lie to her grandmother about becoming terminally ill. In fact, when Wang’s grandmother would visit the set, the cast and production members would lie about what the movie was about, saying it was based on their family’s immigration story.
5. Jojo Rabbit
Taika Waititi’s satirical Jojo Rabbit really pushes boundaries by telling the story of the World War II Nazi regime from the perspective of a nationalistic, ten year old German boy. In this black comedy, Jojo has been completely brainwashed growing up with Nazism. His imaginary best friend is a parodied Adolf Hitler (played by Taika Waititi). Discovering that his single mother (portrayed by Scarlett Johannson) has been hiding a Jewish girl in their home, Jojo struggles to come to terms with the ideas of the anti-Semitic nation he has so proudly grown up in. Jojo Rabbit points fun at the fact that by the end of World War II, even a small privileged Aryan boy couldn’t ignore the Nazi regime’s brutality.
4. Frozen 2
Frozen 2 was my favorite new Disney film of 2019. Olaf’s perfectly timed comedic relief (“Samantha?”) and character development has come a long way since his dotty debut in Frozen. Kristoff’s character was greatly improved as well. Instead of trying to save or protect Anna from battle, Kristoff fights alongside her. One of my favorite lines is when he asks Anna, “I’m here; what do you need?” Idina Menzel’s wide singing range is highlighted in Queen Elsa’s powerful ballad “Into the Unknown.” Seen by some as the “Let it Go” of Frozen 2, “Into the Unknown” kicks off Elsa’s new journey of self-discovery. While continuing to emphasize the strong sisterly bond between Elsa and Anna established in the first film, Frozen 2 embraces new themes, such as overcoming fears of change, the importance of teamwork, (and some rather mature historical references towards white supremacy that likely went over the heads of younger audience members). Frozen 2 is an inspiring Disney film that people of all ages will be able to enjoy.
3. Marriage Story
Despite the fact that Marriage Story is so heavy that I may not be able to watch it again for some time, it had to make my top movie list for 2019. Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver play a New York couple undergoing a divorce in California. They are fighting for child custody over their young son, Henry. The movie has an amazing all-star cast; Scarlet Johannsson’s lawyer is played by Laura Dern, and Adam Driver’s lawyer is played by Alan Alda. The courtroom scenes are intense and uncomfortable; the lawyers ruthlessly bring up personal attacks against each former spouse in an attempt to win the judge’s sympathy (similar to the misconstrued courtroom attacks seen in Kramer vs Kramer). With painful fights, and perhaps even more intense silences, the entire cast of Marriage Story gives phenomenal performances in this emotional rollercoaster.
Leading the Oscars so far with 11 nominations, is the violent, darkly disturbing Joker. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as Arthur Fleck descending into madness was the best casting decision that could have been made. Phoenix absolutely nails it as a lonely, mentally ill man, taking care of his mother in their broken down apartment. He works as a clown and dreams of becoming a stand-up comedian. His sense of humor is incredibly dark, and he struggles to make connections with others. Joker is not only a comic book story about early Gotham and the rise of a villain, it accurately questions the society and systems that bring Arthur Fleck lower and lower until he resorts to violence.
Pain and Glory, Little Women, Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood, I Lost My Body
Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite is a perfect movie; it wraps comedy, crime, drama, romance, horror, suspense, and mystery all into one. It begins as a South Korean satirical comedy on class divide. A cunning, destitute South Korean family, (living in urban slums so gritty that strangers urinate outside their window) finds a way to sneak into the privileged lives of a millionaire’s household. With plot twist following plot twist, Parasite is difficult to describe without giving away any major spoilers. Parasite is a must-see masterpiece. Walk into this film without any preconceptions, and leave paralyzed with shock and amazement.
A Beacon resident since 2001, Sophia is pursuing a master’s degree in education at SUNY New Paltz.