• James Rutherford

10 for ’19: My Favorite Films from the Year of the Pig


Movie poster for the top-10 list 10 for ’19: My Favorite Films from the Year of the Pig

1. A Hidden Life

Movie poster for the film A Hidden Life starring August Diehl

“A Hidden Life” is an altogether resounding true story starring August Diehl as Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian farmer who adamantly refuses to serve Nazi Germany during World War II. A lifelong resident of the rural mountain village of St. Radegund, Franz is shown via flashback as he first encounters and courts young Fani (Valerie Pachner) before they ultimately marry and raise three daughters in their idyllic community. When full-scale warfare erupts against Soviet forces and Franz is called to active duty, however, he staunchly refuses to pledge allegiance to Hitler and is imprisoned indefinitely for his defiance. Written and directed by Terrence Malick (“The Thin Red Line”), “A Hidden Life” is a monumental and thoroughly impassioned tale of of resistance, determination and hardship. Sweeping and majestic with his camera, Malick brings a simple, unexceptional man’s life to the screen with enormous exuberance—aided immeasurably by James Newton Howard’s utterly transcendent musical composition. A galvanizing and heartbreaking affair—no other film affected me so profoundly in 2019.


View the trailer here.



2. Monos

Movie poster for the film Monos starring Moises Arias and Sofia Buenaventura

“Monos” is a bold and wildly unconventional South American war film that follows a group of teenage militants posted to a remote Colombian outpost to guard a kidnapped American doctor (Julianne Nicholson). Nestled above the clouds in the rugged Colombian Andes, the unit of 8 “mono” youths is left to their own devices when not intermittently visited by “The Messenger” (Wilson Salazar) for sessions of intense military training. Their remaining days are spent carousing and engaging in playful histrionics, even after being deliberately assigned a milk cow for the purpose of safe keeping. When a single tragic mistake is committed, however, a cascading series of transgressions finds the group splintered and increasingly adversarial—the full reality of warfare weighing upon each of them discordantly. With inspiration from William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies” and Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”, and boosted by a unique and innovative soundtrack from Mica Levi, it’s a provocative and thrilling cinematic conception from Brazilian filmmaker Alejandro Landes.


View the trailer here.



3. Honey Boy

Movie poster for the film Honey Boy starring Shia LeBeouf

“Honey Boy” is actor Shia LeBeouf’s autobiographical treatise on his own formidable adolescence, as a gifted young performer named Otis saddled with his hotheaded, often volatile father James (played by LeBeouf) as his legal guardian. The storyline shifts to and fro between between 1995 and 2005, the former depicting a period when 12-year-old Otis (Noah Jupe) is forced to share a shabby motel room with James, while the latter illustrates time spent by 22-year-old Otis (Lucas Hedges) in an alcohol treatment center. Coming up as a child actor and product of his parents’ splintered marriage, Otis relies on James for legal wardenship even as he benefits from greater overall maturity and reasoning. A decade later, Hedges portrays Otis as a fully-realized Hollywood star beset by multiple traumas at the hands of James years earlier—desperate to shed the anguish bestowed upon him at such an impressionable age. All three leads deliver powerhouse performances to this piercing, brutally honest portraiture of dysfunction and reconciliation, amounting to one of the most achingly genuine human dramas of the entire year.


View the trailer here.



4. Uncut Gems

Movie poster for the film The Safdie Brothers' Uncut Gems starring Adam Sandler

“Uncut Gems” is a searing and gritty urban thriller set in 2012 and starring Adam Sandler as Howard Ratner, a charismatic jeweler operating out of New York City’s Diamond District. Coming into possession of a rare and valuable black opal from Ethiopia, Howard devises an illicit plan to auction off the prized commodity in order to pay off overwhelming gambling debts, before being sidetracked by a fateful meeting with then-NBA star Kevin Garnett. Delivered to Howard through middleman Demany (LaKeith Stanfield), Garnett borrows the tantalizing mineraloid, anticipating that that its mystical powers will bolster his success on the hardwood. This perilous decision leaves Howard scrambling against time as vicious thugs representing his own brother-in-law Arno (Eric Bogosian) begin to encircle and menace him while demanding restitution. Written and directed by Bennie and Josh Safdie (“Good Time”), “Uncut Gems” is a fierce and propulsive concoction, highlighted by Sandler’s superb and utterly magnetic performance. A major step forward in the careers of all three principals, it’s a wild and intoxicating experience—an absolute must-see.


View the trailer here.



5. Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Movie poster for the French film Portrait of a Lady on Fire starring Adèle Haenel and Noémie Merlant

“Portrait of a Lady on Fire” (“Portrait de la Jeune Fille en Feu”) is a subtle and resounding love story set in 18th-century France, on an island off the coast of Brittany. A young painter named Marianne (Noémie Merlant) travels to the secluded sanctuary at the behest of an aristocratic countess (Valeria Golino) to paint a portrait of her young daughter Héloïse (Adèle Haenel). Héloïse has been promised in marriage to an unacquainted Milanese nobleman, and with her portrait intended as a gift in matrimony, she has abjectly refused to sit for previous artists in steadfast objection to the arrangement. Warned that Héloïse will maintain her defiance, Marianne engages her as a companion for daily walks in order to memorize her every feature for subsequent transfer to the canvas—their proximity and candor slowly drawing the two of them into a flourishing, passionate love affair. “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” is a wonderfully majestic creation, etching out a fervent tale of affection and accord with supreme grace. Written and directed by French filmmaker Céline Sciamma (“Girlhood”) and shot it glorious 8K resolution, it’s an impeccable and entirely exquisite adult drama for the ages.


View the trailer here.



6. Parasite

Movie poster for the South Korean film Parasite starring Song Kang Ho

“Parasite” (“Gisaengchung”) is a beguiling dark comedy-thriller from South Korea starring Song Kang Ho as Kim Ki-Taek, matriarch of a family of hustlers subsisting at the bottom rungs of Seoul’s socio-economic hierarchy. Residing alongside his wife Chung-sook (Hye-jin Jang), son Ki-woo (Woo-sik Choi) and daughter Ki-jeong (So-dam Park) in an underground hovel, Ki-Taek is encouraged by a promising opportunity for young Ki-woo to masquerade as a student and replace his friend as English tutor for the wealthy Park family. Ki-woo immediately pursues and acquires the position before beginning to draw his family members into the Park’s home one-by-one—each impersonating skilled professionals while concealing their relations to one another. Their elaborate ruse comes together seamlessly, though they remain woefully unaware of far more sinister truths harbored by outgoing housekeeper Moon-gwang (Jeong-eun Lee). Written and directed by acclaimed filmmaker Bong Joon Ho (“Snowpiercer”), “Parasite” is a wildly transgressive depiction of deceit and class warfare, delivering one of the most surprising and socially conscious tales of intrigue all year.


View the trailer here.



7. Joker

Movie poster for the film Joker starring Joaquin Phoenix and Robert De Niro

“Joker” stars Joaquin Phoenix as the titular villain within the DC Comics universe, famous as Batman’s most fervent nemesis in both print comics and multiple screen formulations. Here screenwriter Scott Silver and director Todd Phillips (“The Hangover”) have crafted a gritty origin story around the character of Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) and his evolution from struggling party clown to full-fledged antihero. The film charts the steady disintegration of Fleck’s sensibilities as he yearns for acceptance while beset by a condition that causes him to laugh aloud, often in the most inappropriate of instances. Unable to maintain his prescribed medication after social service cuts, Arthur soon thereafter gains cult status following an act of violent retribution that makes waves in the local media. Bolstered by his newfound identity as a celebrated agitator, Arthur launches into a campaign of fierce requital against a society that has relegated him to obscurity and dejection. Highlighted by an brilliantly unbridled performance by Phoenix, “Joker” is a ferocious and monumental tale of madness and reckoning that must be seen to be believed. It’s nerve-shattering and entirely unforgettable cinema—certainly one of the finest comic book films ever produced.


View the trailer here.



8. 1917

Movie poster for the film 1917 starring George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman

“1917” is a unique and astounding war drama starring George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman as Lance Corporals Blake and Schofield, callow British soldiers stationed in Northern France at the height of the First World War. When General Erinmore (Colin Firth) learns of a covert strategy by the Germans to feign retreat in order to execute a large-scale ambush, yet lacking the telecommunications to warn the Devonshire Infantry Regiment of the imminent threat, he recruits Blake and Schofield as emergency couriers. Their mission entails hand-delivery of a personal message of warning to Colonel MacKenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) of the 2nd Battalion—a daunting task entailing a grueling trek across many kilometers of hazardous occupied land. Written and directed by British filmmaker Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”), “1917” is an unparalleled accomplishment, delivered seamlessly as a single, continuous shot spanning nearly 2 hours of real-time action. Hair-raising and unrelenting, it’s an extraordinarily immersive experience underscored by absolutely impeccable craftsmanship.


View the trailer here.



9. The Irishman

Movie poster for the film The Irishman starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino

“The Irishman” is an epic crime drama from Martin Scorsese (“Goodfellas”) that details the rise of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) from humble beginnings as a Pennsylvania truck driver to prominent mafia hitman closely associated with famed Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). Scorsese’s film is told via flashback from the perspective of an elderly Sheeran, beginning with his initial acquaintance with Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), head of the Northeastern Pennsylvania crime family. The storyline follows Sheeran’s ascension to prominence and eventual introduction to Hoffa as the bodyguard he requires for protection from myriad parties, including rising Teamster rival Anthony Provenzano (Stephen Graham). Ultimately elevated to a senior role within the Teamsters himself, Sheeran enjoys close familial ties with Hoffa—ties that are severely tested once he is tasked with the most dire of professional assignments. Lengthy and replete with Scorsese’s acutely measured stylings, “The Irishman” is a remarkable and bittersweet reflection on a bygone era and one man’s enormously understated historical significance.


View the trailer here.



10. Jojo Rabbit

Movie poster for the film Jojo Rabbit starring Roman Griffin Davis and Scarlett Johansson

"Jojo Rabbit" is an outlandish World War II comedy/drama from Kiwi phenom Taika Waititi ("Hunt for the Wilderpeople"), about a young German boy named Jojo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) and his trusted imaginary friend—a cartoonish likeness of Adolf Hitler (Waititi). A fervent devotee of The Third Reich, Jojo resides in Berlin with his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) who contrasts his severity with her own dedication to the German resistance while secretly harboring a young Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie). Upon discovering Elsa, Jojo is horrified that an individual of such ill repute would reside in his home, yet engages in a series of darkly comic interchanges with the young rebel that slowly disentangle his most egregious of misconceptions. Jojo's awakening corresponds with the final days of armed conflict, as Allied and Soviet forces lay siege to the city and Jojo is faced to confront his own personal reckoning. Uniquely eccentric, "Jojo Rabbit" is a wry parody that perfectly balances levity and pathos, delivering an one-of-a-kind statement on the absurdity of warfare through a child’s entirely impressionable eyes, mind and heart.


View the trailer here.


 

HONORABLE MENTION


The Lighthouse

Movie poster for the film The Lighthouse starring Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe

“The Lighthouse” is a macabre psychological horror film from writer/director Robert Eggers (“The Witch”) starring Robert Pattinson as Winslow and Willem Dafoe as Wake, dual 19th-Century lighthouse keepers on a remote island off the coast of New England. Winslow arrives to the isolated outpost in order to fulfill a month-long contract position under the tutelage of the aged and irritable Wake, the two bearing little favor from the outset as they take alternating shifts at the control of the titular navigational aid. Winslow is soon beset by dark visions while the caustic Wake engages in mysterious nighttime activities—animosity between the two festering to a point of unbridled fervor. Dark fate ultimately converging upon them both in the most diabolical of manners, "The Lighthouse” is a haunting tale of desperation, hostility and madness. Featuring roundly breathtaking performance from both leads, it’s world class horror in the hands of a burgeoning new master of the genre.


View the trailer here.



Ad Astra

Movie poster for the film Ad Astra starring Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones

“Ad Astra” (Latin for “to the stars”) is a striking and evocative science-fiction adventure film set in the near future and starring Brad Pitt as Major Roy McBride, son of famed astronaut Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones) who disappeared into the far reaches of space 16 years earlier. When mysterious power surges envelop the solar system and threaten all of mankind on Earth, Roy is assigned to a deep space mission to determine if the surges are emanating from the “Lima Project”—his father’s long-lost research station developed in the search for intelligent life. A multi-stage endeavor, Roy must trek from Earth to the Moon, on to Mars and eventually beyond Neptune where he hopes to pinpoint the source of the devastating energy flows—all the while overcoming dangerous obstacles and often startling turns in fate. Co-written and directed by James Gray (“The Lost City of Z”), “Ad Astra” is a high-touch, intellectualized take on science fiction adventurism, delivering genuine thrills and warmly thought-provoking reflections on the binds of family heritage.


View the trailer here.



The Last Black Man in San Francisco

Movie poster for the film The Last Black Man in San Francisco starring Jimmie Fails and Jonathan Majors

“The Last Black Man in San Francisco” is the impassioned serio-comic story of a young black man named Jimmie (Jimmie Fails) who yearns to reacquire the Victorian house originally built by his grandfather in 1946. Located in the heart of the San Francisco’s Fillmore District, the property has sky-rocketed in value due to gentrification though fortuitously becomes vacated—inspiring Jimmie and his close friend Mont (Jonathan Majors) to take up residence as squatters in order to restore it to previous grandeur. The storyline follows the many complexities that Jimmie and Mont experience in combat with zealous realtors as well as their own neighborhood brethren, culminating in the tragic demise of a childhood friend that leaves them both at an enormous loss—unable to comprehend the volatile reality of a city they hold so close to their hearts. Enormously earnest, with remarkable shades of yearning for a bygone age of antiquity, it’s unorthodox and intoxicating modern folklore put to film.


View the trailer here.



Knives Out

Movie poster for the film Knives Out starring Christopher Plummer and Ana de Armas

“Knives Out” is a highly spirited mystery-thriller from writer/director Rian Johnson (“The Last Jedi”) that follows an intricate murder investigation into the suspicious death of famed author Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer). Patriarch of a large and eclectic family, Harlan stands to bestow a large fortune upon his disparate brood before his untimely demise—leaving lead investigator Elliott (LaKeith Stanfield) and famed private detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) bedeviled by fierce familial discord while executing their painstaking probe. Central to the storyline stands Harlan’s personal nurse Marta (Ana de Armas), a highly virtuous young woman caught up in a vicious web of deceit and provocation, as details of Harlan’s final night slowly begin to pinpoint her as the primary person of interest in the case. Craig and de Armas both steal the show here, bringing varying degrees of panache and sincerity to their roles as outsiders enmeshed in a remarkable case of duplicity and treachery. Enormously entertaining and impossible to predict, it’s one of the most purely delightful films of the entire year.


View the trailer here.



Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Movie poster for Quentin Tarantino's film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is Quentin Tarantino’s lively ode to 60’s-era Hollywood, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as movie star Rick Dalton and Brad Pitt as Rick’s closest confidante Cliff Booth. Rick and Cliff’s escapades throughout Los Angeles in the summer of 1969 run parallel to a recapitulation of the final weeks in the life of real-life actress Susan Tate (Margot Robbie), who was infamously murdered by members of the “Mason Family”. The film alternates between the two storylines, painting a portraiture of the two men’s struggles in a new era of Hollywood where their roles are no longer straightforward, and that of Tate as she cavorts with husband Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) and celebrates the release of her latest film. With tensions growing as the plot moves toward the Manson’s dreaded intervention, Tarantino playfully subverts expectations to craft an altogether unexpected turn of events, delivering a revisionist take on history that is left to viewers to digest and interpret. A major landmark in Tarantino’s celebrated career, it’s a bold, electrifying and highly debatable cinematic formulation.


View the trailer here.


 

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Birds of Passage, Marriage Story, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Apollo 11, Little Women, Queen & Slim, Beanpole, Pain and Glory, Booksmart, The Farewell, Ford v Ferrari, Bacurau, Arctic, Dark Waters, The Report, Waves, The Souvenir, Us, Richard Jewell, Motherless Brooklyn, Light of My Life, Long Day's Journey into Night, The Mustang, The King, The Art of Self Defense, High Life, The Nightingale, The Peanut Butter Falcon, Yesterday, The Two Popes, I Lost My Body