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My Top 10 Movies of 2019

 

It’s the end of the year, so let’s get right into it:

 

  1. Knives Out: KnivesOutWhen the patriarch of a wealthy family dies under suspicious circumstances, an investigation filled with zany characters as well as twists and turns ensue. More than just pure escapism though, this Clue inspired whodunit has a fun political undertone along with one the strongest and most original scripts of the year. With a star-studded cast, including Chris Evans, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield, Christopher Plummer, Michael Shannon, Jamie Lee Curtis and Daniel Craig, I could say that Daniel Craig’s Southern accent is the standout, but honestly pick your poison. Everyone is great here. Every aspect of this film is highly entertaining. Writer/director Rain Johnson comes through with a stylized comedic murder mystery that should be up for an Oscar or two. And maybe this is the movie which proves to the neckbeards that “The Last Jedi” was pretty great. Or, maybe not…

 

  1. Jojo Rabbit:jojorabbit Beginning with a montage that compares the frenzy of Hitler’s fan base to Beatlemania, “Jojo Rabbit” shoots immediately into Mel Brooks territory with its “out of bounds” hilarious satire. But it also has that irresistible heart found in other comedies from writer/director Taika Waititi. Set in Germany during WWII, this comedy follows a young boy, Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) who is a part of Adolf Hitler’s army and has dreams of capturing a Jewish person for Hitler in order to become his best friend. But one day he is confronted with a dilemma, when he discovers that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) has been hiding a teenage Jewish girl in the walls of his home. Also, Jojo has an imaginary friend. It’s Hitler. And it’s played by Waititi himself. So, I get it. This synopsis sounds like it very well could be an unpleasant watch. A heartwarming comedy about a child Nazi? Yikes. At the very least the logistics of making a movie like this sounds insane; let alone getting us (the audience) to laugh, as well as root for its characters. But this is the magic trick performed by Waititi. And it is a great one. Because, by the end, “Jojo Rabbit” becomes this hilarious coming of age story for the whole family.

 

  1. Joker: joker2“Joker” is an R-Rated stand-alone prequel of sorts about the man who would become the titular Batman villain. This version of the Joker story was not one that I was familiar with and thus I was happy with sitting through two hours plus of this mentally unstable character, as he watches the world burn. Even though plot-wise there isn’t really much more to it than that, there’s a lot here to appreciate. I think we all knew Joaquin Phoenix (The Master, You Were Never Really Here) was going to be an excellent Joker. I mean, the man is an eccentric character in street clothes. And he is spectacular in this. Not any better or worse than Heath Ledger’s 2008 performance as the Joker. Phoenix’s Joker is a whole other beast. From his dance inspired erratic contortions, to his body transformation, to that laugh, with this performance Phoenix reinvents the character so much so, that audiences will actually find themselves rooting for the Joker; unironically. Also, Todd Phillips, the director of the horrid “The Hangover” trilogy, has probably made the best movie he’ll ever make by nailing this fan fiction “Taxi Driver” homage.

 

  1. Under the Silver Lake: Under-the-Silver-Lake-1.1Every year there is one movie like this. A movie that is bizarre and profound, hated and loved in equal measure. A movie where after watching, you may feel as though there is so much more to uncover, while others will proclaim whoever enjoyed this movie to be unbearably pretentious. “Under the Silver Lake” was that movie in 2019 (with a release date having been delayed for months). From writer/director David Robert Mitchell, this begins as a fairly straight forward crime drama/neo-noir, following an unlikable young man (Andrew Garfield) who becomes infatuated with a woman (Riley Keough) whom he sees in his apartment complex; and then one day she disappears. But in very Lynchian style, there is much more (ugliness) when you dig beneath the plastic façade. And as we start to pull back the layers and the story becomes almost too convoluted to find “believable”, that is when the fanboy “cult classic” magic begins. This is a movie that can and should be dissected for some time after its viewing; even if all of the work that goes into post-viewing analysis may be altogether meaningless. This is the love child of “Mulholland Drive” and “Chinatown”, even though rumor has it “Southland Tales” may be the real father.

 

  1. Booksmart: booksmartThis high school comedy about two super smart female friends having a “life crisis” the day before senior graduation, was said to be the “Superbad” of this generation, but I thought it was much better. It’s the funniest movie of the year, as well as the best “buddy comedy” I’ve seen in ages. And as great as the acting is (Beanie Feldstein is not only hilarious as one of the two leads, but also a sensational actor) I have to equate the fact that this movie reaches teen comedy perfection multiple times, to the direction of Olivia Wilde, who gives us one of the best directed movies of the year.

 

  1. The Irishman: irishmanThe movie was nearly three and a half hours long, so I’ll keep this one short and sweet. Martin Scorsese directs a movie about a mobster (Robert De Niro) recounting the killing of Union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). For me, this was not only the finality of a trilogy that consists of “Goodfellas” and “Casino”, but it reads as a more complete thought; that means I thought it was better (de-aging aside). Fight me.

 

  1. Parasite: parasiteSadly, the only foreign film to make my list (sorry, “Monos”) there could be a strong argument made that “Parasite” should be number one for everything it attempts and absolutely nails here. No lie. Watching “Parasite” is like watching a two-hour juggling act. Even though I was a huge fan of 2009’s “Mother”, here writer/director Bong Joon Ho makes his Hitchcockian masterpiece, telling the story (set in South Korea) of an unemployed family that begins to weasel their way into the lives of a disgustingly wealthy family. This movie not only hits on the solid story (stories) aspect you look for in a film (there are literally 3 or 4 different stories going on at once) it also layers in tons of dark comedy and some scathing political satire regarding not only North and South Korean relations, but of South Korean and the United States as well. Now that I’m thinking about it, this probably should be higher on my list…well, maybe next year.

 

  1. Midsommar: midsommarWriter/director Ari Aster was right. This really was Willy Wonka for perverts. This “horror” film tells the story of a young woman (Florence Pugh, who gives my favorite performance of the year by a female lead) who goes on a trip to Sweden with her boyfriend and his friends, in order to participate in a Coachella-like festival (just with more white people). What “Get Out” did for white people in the suburbs, “Midsommar” will do for white people internationally. It’s that effective. And it’s twisted in all of the right ways. That said, if you think of this as less of a standard horror flick (because it isn’t traditionally “scary”) and more of a relationship/breakup movie, then this two hour plus bright and beautiful looking nightmare will come full circle like an aggressively sadistic yet satisfying joke. Also, the final scene of “Midsommar” solidified Aster as my spirit animal, hitting another twisted homerun in this follow-up to last year’s “Hereditary”.

 

  1. Luce: luce-movie-octavia-spencer-tgj-600x317My favorite protagonists are highly flawed. Speaking as a Black American, “Luce” is everything I want in a movie. Directed by Julius Onah and co-written by J.C. Lee, this slow-burn thriller tells the story of Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) an honor student, originally from war-torn Eritrea and adopted at age ten by white American parents (played by Naomi Watts and Tim Roth). One day a teacher (Octavia Spencer) becomes suspicious that Luce’s calm and affable exterior may be hiding something a bit more sinister. It’s quite fascinating to see all of the dynamics at play. From the white American parents who struggle with how much to trust their black child, to the black teacher whose ideology comes in direct conflict with Luce’s. And Luce, a character that struggles with his identity as an immigrant person of color, going to a predominately white school, where he is praised for his eloquence and ability to basically make the white people around him feel good about themselves, is a revelation of a character. The beauty of a film like this is that ten different people could watch it and come out with ten differing takeaways. To me this isn’t a story about a sociopath or a star student, but rather a commentary on being black in America; how as a permanent immigrant (based on skin color alone) there is a dichotomy within the community and individual, which causes a schism in mentality and social norms. What does it mean to be a Black American? Is it Obama? Is it a rapper on BET? Is it a Mammy? Is it even an American? Or is it all of these things and none of them at the same time? “Luce” asks all of these questions, while making the bold statement that the Black American is culturally schizophrenic and as James Baldwin once said, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” To me, “Luce” is an example of how one perfectly tells the story of what it’s like to be black in America.

 

  1. Marriage Story: Marriagestory-1280x533Noah Baumbach writes and directs the most perfect film of the year. “A Marriage Story” contains the best script, the best direction, the best editing, the best all-around performances and honestly, made me cry multiple times. If you haven’t seen this Netflix film yet, I’d describe it as a more expansive version of “Kramer vs. Kramer”. We see a couple (Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson) who once loved one another, go through a divorce. And then we are made to witness them figuratively cut each other up for a couple of hours. I’ve never been through a divorce myself, but this looked pretty accurate to me; and more vicious and with more bloodshed than most war films. Also, I know what you’re saying, and trust me, a movie that contains not one person of color is not a conventional pick for me; but here we are. What I will say, in my defense, is that this is a movie that punched me in the stomach and when I was on the ground, proceeded to start kicking. Yeah, that sounds like more my type of movie.

 

Just missed my list:

Babu Frik

 

Follow me on Twitter @moviesmarkus

 

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Top 10 Movies of 2015

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Time to start my year anew; a new website for a new year. And what better way to start off the New Year than with a top ten list…a top ten list of last year’s movies, but you get what I’m trying to say.

Narrowly missing my list (in order):
16. Chappie
15. Creed
14. The Martian
13. Brooklyn
12. Predestination
11. Secret in Their Eyes

And now, for the 10 best films of 2015:

10. Jurassic World:Jurassic-World-Chris-Pratt-850x560

The first of two on my list that successfully rebooted an entire franchise in spectacular fashion. Telling this story on a new and much larger theme park, built around Jurassic Park, this much anticipated film gave audiences the “more factor” (more CGI, more dinosaurs, more actual “park”) but for a 4th installment, director Colin Trevorrow more importantly gave fans a fresh story with likeable characters (starring Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard) all while not diluting the original product; as is the problem with many sequels.

9. The Big Short:the big short

Directed by Adam McKay (who injects some welcome levity, cutting the countless scenes of “make me feel bad” Michael Moore-esque finger wagging) and starring Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt, who collectively attempt to make the housing bubble collapse of nearly 10 years ago somewhat understandable. “The Big Short” gets an “A” for effort, while also standing as the most important movie of the year (and undoubtedly the one the most pretentious among us will claim to fully understand in order to save face). The problem is, much like 2009’s “Up in the Air” (my favorite movie of that year) “The Big Short” will be almost entirely forgotten in a couple of years. Nevertheless, it still deserves a spot on my list because (say it with me) it is the most important movie of this year.

8. The Hateful Eight:hateful-eight-jennifer-jason-leigh

Taking an appropriate spot on my list, “The Hateful Eight” is the newest Quentin Tarantino film that only a Tarantino fan could love. Meaning, you have to look past the aggressive violence (in this case) aggressive abuse towards women and the aggressively defiant use of the “N” word (and the fact that this movie is over 2 ½ hours long) in order to see how well plotted, beautifully filmed (especially the 70mm showings) and exploding with unabashed entertainment value it is. Or, if you’re a Tarantino fan (like I am) you won’t have to look past any of that. Depicting a post Civil War Wyoming blizzard, where a collection of lively characters of feuding races are held up in a cabin for the duration of a storm. Thing is, someone isn’t who they say they are, which leads to arguments, which leads to killing. Oh yes, does it lead to killing. No, “The Hateful Eight” isn’t Tarantino’s best work. But, even an above average Tarantino whodunit is wildly entertaining and superbly unique. In short, it’s still better than watching high octane, zero-substance cinema, like “Mad Max: Fury Road”.

7. Room:room

Not perfect and quite predictable, yet pulls every heartstring in reach. “Room” tells the story of a five year old boy and his mom, who are held prisoner in a shed. The shed is a prison for the mother, but is the only “world” the little boy has ever known. What gets this film on my list is Lenny Abrahamson’s direction (which is absolutely perfect) as she tells this story mostly through the eyes of the child. I dare you to watch this movie and not cry. It’s simply impossible.

6. The Visit:the visit

The first movie on my list which I enjoyed from start to finish and also a surprise entry, as I may be the only critic in America (if not, the world) who enjoyed “The Visit” enough to give it a place on a top ten list, “The Visit” concerns two children who visit their estranged grandparents; and soon enough the grandparents begin to act strange…and violent. I understand that many were more frightened by the fact that this was a film from the much-maligned M. Night Shyamalan. But I am here to tell you, that “The Visit” is a return to Twilight Zone form for M. Night. And yes, the twist was worth it this time.

5. It Follows:it follows

As more and more people got the chance to see “It Follows”, there have been are more and more who claim “It Follows” is more so flawed and dreadfully slow than it is scary and suspenseful. But I (a critic who has championed this film since its release) still stand by my initial praise that this is one of the scariest movies of recent years, not only because the feeling of suspense is palpable throughout the entire film (without rest) not only because the admittedly blunt allegory of a woman who has sex and then is relentlessly chased by an unseen monster is quite inventive (given the rules of this world) but mostly because “It Follows” will stay with you long after your viewing has ended. It will haunt you. It will follow you. And what more could you want out of a horror flick?

4. Star Wars: The Force Awakens: star wars

  Ripe with thirst quenching nostalgia; thanks to director J.J. Abrams, there may not even be a need for explanation as to why “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” gets a spot here. I mean, chances are, out of all the movies on my list, this is the one you’ve seen. But OK, allow me to play devil’s advocate for a second. Maybe this is a film that didn’t deserve a spot in a top ten list of “best films” of the year (let alone, a place so high on my list). I mean, the acting wasn’t anything spectacular, the visuals don’t rival a “space film” like “The Martian”, and the story is basically “A New Hope” warmed-over for a generation who had never seen “A New Hope”. But it’s my list. And I’m not lying when I say that watching “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was the most fun I had in a theater all year.

3. Sicario:sicario

Directed by Denis Villeneuve, I suspect audiences who disliked “Sicario”, disliked it because it wasn’t a shoot-em-up, U.S vs. Mexico, Robert Rodriguez romp. “Sicario” is a calculated film that stands as the most accurate cinematic depiction of a war that’s going on in our very backyard. Concerning Mexican drug cartels and corrupt FBI agents, for me this film was as much eye opening as it was brutally alarming, as I viewed “realistic” U.S./Mexico relations which shook me to my core.

2. Beasts of No Nation:beasts of no nation

Brutal, violent, heartbreaking, unflinching, grotesque, realistic, tragic, “Beasts of No Nation” (not “Beasts of the Southern Wild) a film from the great Cary Fukunaga, stands as the hardest, yet the most beautifully compelling film to watch on my list; one which deserves a second, third and fourth viewing, because of its truthful depiction of a fictional war fought using child soldiers (a savage practice that still occurs today). Wait. You haven’t heard of this movie, you say? A movie that has taken the #2 spot on my list?! Well that might be because the big chain theaters refused to show it, since it was bought by Netflix, with plans of simultaneous release on the big and small screen. I truly believe that because it was released primarily on Netflix, many don’t even know this film exists. What a travesty!

1.Inside Out:Inside-Out-keyboard-642x396

Over the years only one Pixar film has ever reached my #1 spot; “Inside Out” will be the second. I previously stated that “The Big Short” was the most important film of the year, but in that same breath (and I truly believe this) “Inside Out”, an animated film about human emotions, may be the most important children’s film not only of this generation, but ever made. Yes, the animation is high caliber, but it is truly the adult themes made palatable for children and (though fabricated) a creative look at how memories are stored, what happens to our childhood imaginary friends, how a pre-teen sees the world vs. how a child going through puberty sees the world vs. how a grown-up sees the world, which makes “Inside Out” a watershed film in children’s entertainment.

Bonus: The Worst Films of 2015:

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I didn’t see a whole lot of bad movies this year, but I did see 7! And here they are (in order):

7. The Lazarus Effect
6. The Loft
5: Taken 3
4. Sinister 2
3. The Green Inferno
2. The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death
1. The Age of Adaline: (the only one on my list that actually garners a small explanation, seeing how there were people who actually liked it) The story of a woman who gets electrocuted and now can live forever, actually sounds like (in the right hands) it could’ve lead to an interesting narrative. While this isn’t technically the most inept film I saw all year, it was the most boring and lifeless. This is one of those movies where you could leave to use the restroom, go get some popcorn, go out to your car, drive to the nearest Red Robin, have yourself a burger, eat the burger, tip big, drive back to the theater, find your seat and not have missed a damn thing. With the most annoying voice-over narration throughout as the cherry on top; a narration which rocked me into a cinematic coma, “The Age of Adaline” stands as the worst film of 2015.

Follow me on Twitter @moviesmarkus

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