Finally, after three posts, and three Melville-length rambling articles about movies and the directors and the movies they made before, we’re finally at the end.
In some ways, it’s unfortunate, because there are so many more movies I would love to talk about that I saw this year, so many more I’d love to see and will hopefully see in the upcoming months, all while digesting the film landscape of 2020, a year with a lot of promise itself.
So, without further ado, the last ten. If a movie you loved didn’t make it on this, or you kinda hated some of the movies I picked, well, I apologize. It’s a subjective thing, loving films.
Feel free to rip my choices to shreds.
10. The Irishman
Scorsese has been writing the same movie over and over again throughout the span of his entire career but with “The Irishman” he finally has an ending that sums up the answer to the questions that all of the films have been asking.
It’s not that we should be living normal lives, like in “Mean Streets,” or that eventually the joy goes away and you’re forced to be normal, like in “Goodfellas” or “Casino,” and it isn’t that it’s exhausting like “The Wolf of Wall Street,” instead it’s that, at the end, when all’s said and done, you only have the decisions you’ve made and the mistakes and the people’s lives you’ve ruined; it’s that time moves only one way and the ending is as solid as the period at the end of a sentence.
“The Irishman” is maybe not Scorsese’s “best” movie but it definitely is one of his most complete movies.
9. Avengers: Endgame
Perhaps the most anticipated movie of the year…if not decade; whether it is “cinema” or not, so says film pioneer Martin Scorsese in a recent interview. That being said, “Avengers: Endgame” doesn’t disappoint for those of us who are fine with popcorn films as much as “true cinema.”
Perhaps the thing that I enjoyed the most about it was that it wasn’t afraid to take risks, “killing off” the main antagonist in the first twenty or so minutes of the film.
It also felt very, very satisfying as a much-anticipated story that had been built up over the course of ten years, a feat that is nearly impossible for even less time. I’m looking at you, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”
On top of that, the characters, most of whom we’ve spent considerable time with, all had satisfying “ends” to their stories, for those that applies to.
In fact, one of the greatest feats of the film is that its conclusion was both emotionally weighted and cinematically artful. The final scene to the conclusion of CGI-filled blockbuster franchise ends with a quiet, meditative moment on the effect of love and time.
8. The Last Black Man in San Francisco
“The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” a debut film by first time director Joe Talbot, initially started as a Kickstarter campaign by two school friends, Talbot and the film’s star and protagonist, Jimmie Fails. And the film’s story of a man kicked out of a home his grandfather built as part of the gentrification of a San Francisco neighborhood, is Fails’ actual story.
Albeit, the film takes some liberties both narratively and aesthetically.
I hate to sound like a broken record here, saying over and over again the same things; this is a beautiful film, the cinematography is gorgeous, it affected me, but “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” is one of those movies that digs down dip into your soul and rips up something in you, and it does it scene after scene after scene, rebuilding you board by board, like a rickety old house ready for renovation.
It also features one of the most beautiful film scores of the year, which has been on heavy rotation in my Spotify app.
“Us,” acclaimed writer/director Jordan Peele’s sophomore effort, isn’t as narrowly constructed and poignant on its intended target as his first film, but that isn’t by any means a critique of the film.
Instead, Peele’s second film is more of a menagerie of thematic possibilities, the intent of which has been rolling around in my head since the first time I watched the film’s credits roll back in the early spring.
At that time I assumed that “Us” would be a lock for a top three spot, as it just felt like a big, meta, politically-minded horror film, the likes of which was made by a true cinephile and was made for people who engulf films like water.
That was before this year became, arguably, one of the best years in film in recent memory. Still, “Us” was one of the highlights in an amazing year, and that’s something to be proud of.
6. Marriage Story
Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story” is arguably one of the best films of the year, as well as being one of the most personal films of the year. It is filled with heartbreak, tons of it, and joy and love, and it all fits together so perfectly, so painfully, soul-crushingly perfect. It is a film like few, one that oozes reality. It’s hard to believe that these aren’t real people going through real moments in their lives.
The performances by Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver are brilliant and achingly true to life. The pain and heartache of losing and fighting the ones you love, the things you’ve given up, the things you hoped for, come through in scenes that are simultaneously funny and agonizing.
Baumbach has made a career out of making films about how people interact with each other and how arduous and tiring it can be, and he knows intimately how people communicate and how they occasionally miscommunicate.
5. Jojo Rabbit
Making a comedy about Hitler and the Nazis isn’t exactly a “new” idea. Arguably the most famous silent film actor, Charlie Chaplin, did it right at the birth of WWII. That being said, Chaplin’s film, “The Great Dictator,” was seen as pretty controversial and radical at its given time.
Since then Hitler and his marching brigade have become the closest thing to pure evil on planet earth from a cultural standpoint. So then, to make a comedy about an obsessed Hitler fanatic who also happens to be a kid in grade school seems like a terrible idea.
Couple that with the resurgence of xenophobic ideals and Nazism, ala “the alt-right,” and events like those at Charlotsville, San Antonio, among others, and in the modern culture suddenly Jojo, a young boy who’s obsessed with history’s most famous racist, and…well, yeah, it’s kind of a hard sell.
But acclaimed director Taiki Watiti has long proved his ability at turning terrible ideas into some of the best films of their respective years; what with his New Zealander take on “Napoleon Dynamite’s” middle-America schlocky weirdness, or a mockumentary about one of horror’s most wrung-out antagonists, vampires, or making Thor, the most boring of the characters in the MCU genuinely likeable and quite hilarious.
The movie doesn’t write off Jojo, or his racism. It definitely pokes fun at the ignorance and short-sighted-ness of such unfettered hatred, but it also explores why a young kid would flock to such messages with a reason that is inherently human.
That being said, the film doesn’t let the racism of any of the characters exist without some form of suitable punishment, but for its attempt at exploring the human side of hate, and the walk back from it, I think it does a better job than many other movies on the subject.
The film bursts with creativity and is a suitable antidote to the times and of the racism that has swept up many young men in the name of identity and a place to belong.
“Parasite” is a movie that should be entered into without prior knowledge of the plot, beyond the surface level. The plot, although rather simple in its concept, is filled with twists and turns, both in terms of plot and characters.
For it is hard to know, at times, who to root for. A story about class, the film begins with a family in a basement apartment, a small slit of light shining into their apartment and their struggle to trick and swindle their way into jobs working for a wealthy family atop a hill.
I would delve further into the plot, as I think there are moments in the film that, despite their grotesque nature, are some of the year’s most satisfying, especially in terms of their comment on social class structure and the frustration of the lower class but I don’t want to spoil anything.
From his early genre work, Bong Joon-ho, the Korean-born film’s director has made one great film after another with “Memories of Murder,” “The Host” and “Mother” and then to his foray into English-language film with “Snowpiercer,” and “Okja,” Bong Joon-ho has had a nearly perfect career.
His film “Parasite,” a taut, tense thriller with big important things to say about class and the ignorance of the other half is perhaps among his finest.
Breakups are hard. They’re really, really hard and coming to the conclusion that somebody is bad for you is an incredibly painful experience.
So, from Ari Aster, the man who made family tragedy ala the death of a grandparent/mother and the death of a sister/daughter feel like the most soul shatteringly frightening thing since the dawn of cinema, comes a movie about love and the agonizing exit at the end of a long-term relationship.
There is so much to say about this movie that I’d love to say but I fear that revealing too much might soften the excruciating body blows that this movie lays on its viewer.
“Midsommar” is uncomfortable to watch, it’s at times physically distressing and somehow it’s also kinda cathartic and yet it does all of this in the bright of the midday sun, a rarity for horror films, something that somehow adds to the otherworldly, uncomfortable nature of everything.
I can’t say much more about the film, it’s like cleaning out a festering wound but somehow, by the film’s end, I found myself smiling while holding back tears.
2. Knives Out
This feels like the type of movie Rian Johnson has been dreaming about making ever since he made a black and white short about a golf ball that murders people. (Yes, that is real.)
Knives Out is a whodunnit in the vein of all of the best of Agatha Christie but with a modern spin and flare that makes it feel somewhat timeless.
The characters, played by an amazing ensemble cast, are all well-drawn and can be summed up with considerable detail, a tough feat for a film with this many characters, some of whom share only a handful of minutes of screen-time.
There’s been considerable backlash aimed at Rian Johnson as of late, particularly for his foray into a certain franchise that I won’t mention here; a film in which I frankly enjoyed how it diverged from established canon and tone.
That being said, Rian Johnson has a particular style that is all his own. It’s a bit uncanny, like Wes Anderson-lite, and somehow that serves the long but played out mystery genre well.
Plus, as an added bonus, “Knives Out” comments about our particular political climate in a clever, satisfying way that affected me considerably by the film’s end.
The first day I watched Paddleton, I watched it twice. And no, this isn’t the movie about the dapper British bear, it’s the Netflix exclusive that was released last winter starring Mark Duplass and Ray Romano.
The film presents itself as a buddy travel-comedy, much in the vein of “Tommy Boy” or “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.” However where the movie succeeds and what makes it one of the best films of the year is in what it has to say about friendship, true friendship and how utterly painful it can be to lose a friend.
Duplass plays a man with terminal stomach cancer who asks his friend, Romano, to accompany him on a trip to get the meds that will kill him, as they’re sold quite a bit away for moral reasons.
It seems like a grim, depressing premise, and it is at times but it’s also incredibly funny as Duplass and Romano, neighbors at an apartment complex who bond over kung fu movies and a game they’ve created called “paddleton” are genuinely likeable and feel like real, genuine friends who care for each other deeply and who are fun to be around.
Duplass and Romano play off each other well, switching from genuine playful joking, to annoyance, to affection in such a natural way that their friendship is easy to sympathize with. This in turn makes you feel as if you’re privy to the close emotional bonding of two people who genuinely need each other.
I won’t say that the movie isn’t hard to watch. When I first watched it, it hit me hard, especially the ending but it is an enjoyable movie and somehow, despite knowing the ending, it’s considerably hard not to enjoy the ride up to that point, which makes the ending, all the more emotional.
The film goes to great lengths to create two likeable characters who have a truly genuine bond in order to express, perhaps better than I’ve ever seen, how important it is to have friends and how much of a weight humanity has on a given person.