My Top Ten Films of 2019 — And My Worst

Posted on December 30, 2019 at 12:20 pm

My top ten list for 2019, in alphabetical order and with runners-up:

Copyright A24 2019

“1917”
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”
“Amazing Grace”
“Bombshell”
“Booksmart”
“The Irishman”
“The Last Black Man in San Francisco”
“Little Women”
“Marriage Story”
“The Peanut Butter Falcon”

Runners-up: “Apollo 11,” “Blinded by the Light,” “The Farewell,” “Hail Satan?,” “Honeyland,” “Motherless Brooklyn,” “The Parts You Lose,” “The Mustang,” and “The Laundromat”

And on television/streaming: Unbelievable, Russian Doll

My colleagues at rogerebert.com and I wrote about the best performances of 2019, too. I got to write about Jonathan Majors in “The Last Black Man in San Francisco.”

Any good actor can play characters who have great speeches and witty dialogue, who express extreme and expressive emotions like passion, fury, shock, and who determine the direction of the storyline. But Jonathan Majors had to find a way to play Mont, a character who is quiet, gentle, and observant, literally along for the ride—he and his best friend Jimmie Fails ride one skateboard, holding on to each other. Majors showed us who Mont was with the subtlest expressions and gestures, all within the context of the film’s delicate, poetic lyricism.

Co-writer/director Joe Talbot told me that Majors improvised one of the movie’s most striking scenes, when Mont approaches a group of men standing on a sidewalk taunting those who walk by. They are a sharp contrast to Jimmie and Mont, who may not be realistic in their plans but who are always focused and active. Their constant commentary also functions like a Greek chorus. In the initial script, Mont was supposed to distract the group with a magic trick. But Majors suggested that Mont surprise the group by critiquing them as though they were in an advanced acting seminar with a shared vocabulary of dramaturgy. This reveals a lot about what Mont has been thinking and the way he sees the world. And it beautifully sets up a climactic moment near the end of the film. Mont finally speaks up, fittingly, first through a play and then directly, with a message he knew would be devastating for Jimmie. Majors shows us that Mont knows he risks ending the most important relationship he had, but knows it is essential for Jimmie’s well-being. Majors made Mont more than a sidekick, a fully-realized character of his own, ultimately someone we care about and root for—and perhaps wish we could be lucky enough to have as a friend ourselves.

And the movies I really suffered through in 2019, including (inevitably) some that turned up on some top ten lists from other critics this year but really did not work for me:

Copyright 2019 Universal
Souvenir
Serenity
Dark Phoenix
Lucy in the Sky
Joker
The Goldfinch
Playing With Fire
Last Christmas
Cats

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