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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Booksmart

Posted on May 23, 2019 at 9:00 am

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong sexual content and language throughout, drug use and drinking - all involving teens
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Teen drinking and drug use
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril and violence, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 23, 2019
Date Released to DVD: September 9, 2019

Copyright Annapurna 2019
Booksmart” is the movie you hope for. Just as the summer blockbuster season charges in with with all of its car crashes and superheroes and CGI and budgets the size of a small country’s GNP, here comes a fresh, funny little film filled with heart and a bunch of instant favorite performers from booksmart and smart-smart debut director Olivia Wilde. It gives us two adorable heroines to root for, but that does not mean we don’t also root for them to get a bit of a comeuppance about their smug condescension. High school might be awful, but so is considering yourselves so vastly superior to everyone else. This movie is overflowing with goodwill toward all of the usual high school line-up, from druggie to rich boy who tries too hard, from drama geeks to jocks to skater kids to the girl known as AAA because of the “roadside assistance” she has given at least three boys.

Graduating high school seniors Amy (Kaitlyn Dever of “Short Term 12”) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein of “Lady Bird”) love being BFFs and they especially love feeling near-contempt for everyone else at school by virtue (and they mean Virtue) of their dedication to hard work, good grades, impressive extracurriculars, and acceptance at top schools. They are also irresistibly cute in the way they compliment as well as complement one another.

Molly wakes up to taped affirmations, her bedroom festooned with images of the women she identifies with: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Michelle Obama. She is class president and valedictorian. She will be at her dream school and her best friend will be just two hours away in the fall. Everything she has worked for has turned out exactly as she planned.

Except not. When Molly and Amy learn to their horror that the kids who partied also got into great schools, even Yale, they experience a complete existential meltdown. Their most fundamental understanding about the world and their own place in it is shattered. And so, they decide, or, rather, Molly decides and pushes Amy into it, they should make up for lost time and spend their last night before graduation having four years’ worth of fun.

They are not sure exactly what that looks like. Their matching jump suits suggest they have no idea whatsoever, but on the other hand the essentials they tuck into their handy belt bag, including Mace and hand sanitizer, suggests that they might.

They have not exactly been invited to any of the parties, so they have quite an adventure, including some stops at the wrong parties. A lonely rich kid (Skyler Gisondo as Jared) waits hopefully as no one shows up on the yacht where he hoped to host his classmates. Then there’s the drama kids, the ones who plan to spend the summer putting on productions of Shakespeare in the Park-ing lot, who of course are hosting one of those tedious dress up and guess who did the murder parties. In order to track down the party they want, they end up enlisting the help of a favorite teacher (a winning Jessica Williams, showing us how cool booksmart can be), taking an Uber driven by their high school principal (Wilde’s husband, former “SNL” star Jason Sudeikis), and pretending to rob a pizza delivery guy (“SNL’s” Michael Patrick O’Brien).

Molly and Amy take some risks, including making an effort to actually interact with their crushes. They also get high (a very, very funny sequence I won’t spoil except to say it involves stop-motion animation) and learn some important lessons about some of their other assumptions. And they have an unprecedented fight, which hurts their feelings but ends up bringing them closer.

Parents should know that this movie has extremely strong and vulgar language, comic peril and violence, and teen partying including alcohol and drugs.

Family discussion: Why didn’t Amy tell Molly the truth about her plans? Why were they so wrong about their classmates?

If you like this, try: “Superbad,” starring Feldstein’s brother, Jonah Hill

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