By Daniel Barnes
DANIEL’S TOP TEN FILMS OF 2019
1. Uncut Gems
Directors Benny and Josh Safdie double down on the pure rush of their 2017 success Good Time with this adrenaline-soaked thriller. Adam Sandler gives the performance of the year as Howard Ratner, a New York City jeweler and danger addict barreling through the Diamond District in search of the ultimate win.
2. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
It’s so easy to luxuriate in the sights and sounds of Quentin Tarantino’s historical fantasy that you could overlook the richness of the text. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is Tarantino’s career-encapsulating look at the ways that violence shapes our lives, both onscreen and off. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt deliver the most emotionally vulnerable performances of their careers as soon-to-be has-beens in 1969 Hollywood.
Mike Leigh’s epic story of the 1819 Peterloo Massacre played to largely indifferent festival circuit audiences in 2018, and it only received a cursory theatrical release before getting dumped onto Amazon Prime. Honestly, I wasn’t all that pumped to watch two-plus hours of speeches followed by a bloody massacre either, but I found Peterloo riveting from start to finish.
This sun-drenched horror film from Hereditary director Ari Aster haunted me like nothing else released in 2019. Florence Pugh gives a gut-wrenching turn as a grieving student who follows her turd of a boyfriend to Sweden, only to find terrors beyond comprehension.
5. In Fabric
Peter Strickland’s marvelously overwrought dark comedy gripped me from the first shot of a knife slicing open a box of clothes. Marianne-Jean Baptiste stars as a lonely single mother drawn into “a prism of retail abstraction” by an evil red dress. Strickland packs more wildly ravishing moments into the first 15 minutes of In Fabric than most filmmakers could muster in their entire careers.
6. Marriage Story
Noah Baumbach ends a decade that included Greenberg, Frances Ha and Mistress America with this painful but hilarious look at an artistic couple going through a messy divorce. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are both marvelous in the lead roles, while Laura Dern, Ray Liotta, Alan Alda and Julie Hagerty contribute strong support.
7. Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese
Less heralded than the other Scorsese movie released on Netflix this year, but more of a pure joy to watch. Scorsese builds this “pseudo-documentary” from pieces of Dylan’s 1978 film Renaldo and Clara. He then sprinkles in some fake-out talking head interviews, even getting Casino collaborator Sharon Stone to join the fun. Come for the metacommentary, but stay for the face-melting concert footage from Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue tour.
8. Pain & Glory
For his 21st feature film, the great Spanish director Pedro Almódovar reaches back into his inkwell of semi-autobiography to create the quietly enchanting Pain & Glory. Frequent Almódovar muse Antonio Banderas sets aside his usual scenery-chewing to play an ailing, Almódovar-esque filmmaker confronting his past.
9. The Irishman
The end of the decade seemed to put many great directors in a reflective mood, and no one ruminates through his art like Scorsese. Instead of the flash-bang Casino clone that many people expected, Scorsese gave us a bleak, somber story about the inexorable rot created by corruption and violence.
As in Snowpiercer, director Bong Joon-ho turns an obvious class war parable into a compelling genre film. It’s the perfect mix of his penchants for tidy symbolism and unhinged tonal shifts, with a strong ensemble cast led by longtime Bong favorite Song Kang-ho.
DANIEL’S BOTTOM FIVE FILMS OF 2019
Like Tarantino in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, M. Night Shyamalan reexamines his past with Glass. Instead of a culmination of a grand career, though, Shyamalan reaches the rock bottom of hacky gimmicks and clueless storytelling.
Just as swollen and painfully unnecessary as the four other Disney live-action remakes of animated films released in 2019. So why single out Aladdin? Because you can never unsee dance sequences directed by Guy Ritchie.
3. All Is True
Kenneth Branagh caps a career built on flavorless yet vainglorious Shakespeare adaptations with this borderline unwatchable turn as the Bard of Avon. Branagh directs the film with his usual lack of personality or control.
4. The Fanatic
Former Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst directs this revenge fantasy for talentless elitists. Star John Travolta hits an embarrassing new low, and yet his shameless overacting is the only reason to watch this atrocity.
Given full access to The Beatles songbook and an irresistible story idea, director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Richard Curtis manage to make a film that misunderstands the appeal of the band more thoroughly than the 1978 disaster Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.