By Daniel Barnes
After many years of writing about movies for online and print publications, 2019 challenged me to remain a film critic. The Sacramento News & Review dropped movie reviews from the paper in early January. Even if the SN&R kept me around, the freelance limits of AB5 would have eventually forced their hand. In the end, I wrote a lot fewer movie reviews than usual this year, but you can expect a lot more in the year ahead.
Last week, I published my picks for the Top Ten Films of 2019. For this article, I compiled my best movie reviews, regardless of the quality of the film. Whatever you think of the results, I worked hard on this shit. So before it all gets swept into the dustbin of yesteryear, here are my best movie reviews of 2019.
Daniel’s Best Movie Reviews of 2019
Birds of Passage (published 2/14/19)
The mot juste: “The story gets segmented into five Roman Numeral-bearing “songs” sung over twelve years, almost matching Luca Guadagnino’s “Six Acts and an Epilogue in a Divided Berlin” Suspiria remake for title card pretentiousness. Still, the epic scope and unexpected time-jumps in Birds of Passage lead to numerous gasp-inducing moments. ”
The mot juste: “Less a documentary than a feature-length piece of click-bait, the true-crime sports movie Screwball offers the most superficial look imaginable at the steroids scandal surrounding Alex Rodriguez and Biogenesis. ”
Long Day’s Journey Into Night (5/3/19)
The mot juste: “A never-ending spool of moody dream logic drapes around the film like caterpillar silk, in case you’re into that sort of thing. Frankly, I can contemplate the indefinable despair of existence on my own time.”
Trial by Fire (5/16/19)
The mot juste: “Chunks of a pretty good prison movie occasionally bob to the surface of this bleeding-heart biopic about Cameron Todd Willingham. Unfortunately, they eventually drown under waves of blandness and cliche.”
Walking on Water (5/22/19)
The mot juste: “Paounov practically drags the running time to the 100-minute mark, finding any excuse to manufacture tension. It’s going to rain on opening day! No, it isn’t. A little girl got lost in the crowd of art tourists! Oh, there she is.”
The mot juste: “The story starts to pick up steam after an aggravating first act, but the film never entirely penetrates past its aura of smirking dissatisfaction. Of course, Binoche would be watchable in something ten thousand times as deplorable, but she did the self-inventorying actress bit better in Clouds of Sils Maria.”
All Is True (6/12/19)
The mot juste: “Vintage shameless Branagh, borderline unwatchable, but also a weirdly perfect cap to a career built on flavorless yet vainglorious Shakespeare adaptations. It makes perfect sense that at this stage of his career, Branagh would reach for some twinkly-eyed, Shakespeare in Love-style shit, and still come up short.”
Paris Is Burning (7/5/19)
The mot juste: “More than anything, Paris is Burning is a thoroughly entertaining performance film. Beneath the theatrical trappings, though, sits layer after layer of poverty, neglect and abuse. Without ever exploiting her subjects, Livingston manages to navigate those dueling moods of celebration and depression.”
Chulas Fronteras (9/26/19)
The mot juste: “Les Blank makes every event feel momentous and immediate, whether it’s a cockfight or an anniversary party. He offers a thoroughly affectionate portrait, and while the film frequently wanders, it also moves like lightning. Rather than rely on false framing devices or obnoxious narration, Blank lets his words and images explain everything.”
Pain & Glory (11/8/19)
The mot juste: “It never ceases to amaze me that Almodóvar can draw detailed and even restrained work across a variety of genres from Banderas, while no other director can seem to control his zealous scenery-chewing. However they got there, it’s one of the best lead performances of the year.”
Read more of Daniel’s reviews at Dare Daniel and Rotten Tomatoes, and listen to Daniel on the Dare Daniel podcast.
Categories: Ballots and Best-of Lists, e street film society