Written by Aaron Radcliff:
If I may be honest for a moment, I think I used my solid opening in my Top 50 Films of the 2010’s article. However, if you thought that I was going to scrap a year-end list simply because I did a decade-end one, then you obviously don’t know me and my strange obsession with lists. If you’ve been following me for a while, then you’d know that this is usually a list of 20 films, but let’s be real, I do have to do a little bit of list scrapping. With the forthcoming list, I can confidently say that these were my favorite films of the year and there was zero room for debate unlike my usual 20.
Of course, with lists like this, there will always be a debate and I welcome you to share what your favorites of the year were. There are no right or wrong answers. Just a shared love of movies. Also, I haven’t seen every single film. So if you’re looking for the likes of Bombshell, 1917, or A Hidden Life, you’re not going to find them because the movie gods hate me for living where I do.
So let’s get to it.
– The Art of Self-Defense
– Ready or Not
– Fighting With My Family
– Dolemite is My Name
I raved about Booksmart when it came out and I still love it. The fast-paced and witty humor helps take your typical coming-of-age comedy and give it a new spin. While still embracing many of the tropes of the genre, especially post-Superbad, director Olivia Wilde forges a new path that can take the label of “woke humor” and be equally hilarious and self-reflective. Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein are absolute dynamite together, and Billie Lourd’s coked-out antics had me laughing the hardest I’ve done all year. It’s a film that’s smart and fun without giving up on its convictions.
9. Marriage Story
Noah Baumbach’s portrayal of a crumbling marriage has led to spirited debate online recently. While lines have been drawn between who was right or if the acting (specifically the argument scene) was a bit over-the-top, it’s hard to deny that Marriage Story doesn’t make you think. When my parents divorced, I was too young to remember any of it, but everything in my life that I can remember has been living with the ramifications of it. Seeing the process play out in such a way made me feel more hyper-aware of the character’s faults and the effects it would have on their child. To me, that’s what makes it such a great film. While I haven’t had to live through the madness of it like our main characters, I’ve seen the end result and how that can be (fortunately, it didn’t turn out too bad). Finally having a complete picture of it all made the story and the experience stick with me in a way that other films about failing romances haven’t.
8. The Farewell
Lulu Wang’s West-meets-East family drama is one that’s equally poignant and conflicting. Family dynamics and cultural philosophies clash as you attempt to decide whether it’s best to disclose a painful truth or live with a blissful lie. But it’s more than just that. It’s a story that encompasses the full experience of growth, moving on, and returning to where you once were and the struggles that entails. Can you truly stay gone if you leave or is it better to let go of the home that no longer feels like home? Wang doesn’t give you the right answer, as there is no right answer. It’s simply a story based on her experience and it’s up to you to come to terms with it on your own. A stellar performance from Awkwafina further solidifies the wonderful nature of a wonderful film.
7. Jojo Rabbit
You know what I really enjoy? Making fun of Nazis. Screw those guys. The always hilarious Taika Waititi brings the laughs once again, but this time he has a message to share. While it is a bit uncomfortable finding yourself laughing about Nazis, Waititi’s screenplay and direction are pure satire throughout with the message that hate cannot exist as long as good people still fight…and while we mercilessly mock the evil to the point that it calls its mom because it doesn’t like being bullied. It loses a bit of steam considering the Holocaust or one character’s Jewishness aren’t as pivotal of aspects to the plot as they should be. However, Roman Griffin Davis’ charming portrayal of our confused and conflicted main child alongside Waititi’s relentless jabs at Hitler and the Nazis are enough to feel like an enjoyable two-hour middle finger to those being mocked.
6. The Last Black Man in San Francisco
Maybe it’s my years of listening to pop-punk talking, but hearing anybody speak lovingly of their hometown always seemed odd to me. Yet, The Last Black Man in San Francisco manages to shake that vibe thanks to its genuine and appreciative nature. With a production that started out via Kickstarter before finally making its way to the big screen with A24, the film feels as much about its own growth and change as it does the central city and our characters. Witty dialogue and unique characters give off a strong Humans of New York vibe that makes you feel as connected and appreciative of San Francisco as our leads, even if you’ve never been there. As beautiful to experience as it is to look at, it’s a film that treats you as much of a member of the family as the longtime residents that inspired its creation.
5. The Lighthouse
Let’s do some simple math: What do you get when you take the writer/director of one of my favorite horror films of the decade, add in two fantastic actors, and sprinkle in a heavy helping of Lovecraftian storytelling? You’ve got an engaging, mind-bending fever dream that’s one of the best films of the year. At this rate, I trust Robert Eggers with any type of project because I know he’d make it great. His masterful storytelling and ability to draw you in like a siren is a sight to behold, and it’s only amplified by the astounding performances given by Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. Eggers’ dogged determination to have as period-accurate a story as he can is the icing on the cake as you feel yourself transported to such a specific place and time. It’s a gripping tale of isolation and madness that leaves you just as stir-crazy and on edge as the two wickies.
4. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Céline Sciamma’s tale of forbidden romance is as beautiful as it is heartbreaking, as sensual as it is gentle, and as poignant as it is uplifting. As beautiful and rich as the cinematography and costume design is, the true force and focus of the film is the romance which is wonderfully portrayed by Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel. It’s almost intoxicating the way the script and performances tease you throughout the runtime, fanning the flames of love and passion as it goes along. Sciamma doesn’t linger on the saucy details, but rather focuses entirely on the closeness of the character’s relationship and the inevitability of what’s to come. It’s a gorgeous experience that won’t be forgotten. Added praise goes to Haenel, not only for her performance, but for surpassing Timothée Chalamet’s emotional crying scene from the end of Call Me By Your Name.
Intense, emotional, gorgeous, human. There are a lot of words to describe Waves, but it feels like the best way to describe it is an experience. Drew Daniels’ stellar cinematography and music from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross combine into what feels like a pervasive dreamlike state that occasionally descends into a nightmare. The story of struggle, pressure, tragedy, grief, growth, and forgiveness flirts with being melodramatic but never fully goes there, leaving you as emotionally in flux as you are mentally. Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Taylor Russell shine as two sides of the same coin, their performances being as unique and memorable as the stories they portray.
2. Little Women
Full disclosure: When I made my Top 50 list, due to time constraints, I had to make the cutoff at the midpoint of December. That is the ONLY reason why Little Women didn’t make that list because it absolutely would’ve otherwise. It’s just so damn delightful. It’s warm, charming, funny, smart, loving, touching, hammy, wholesome, and goddammit it’s so good. I know that’s not exactly great analysis, but that’s genuinely the best way I can describe it. Greta Gerwig’s writing and directing are even sharper than they were with Lady Bird, the cast was absolutely stellar (major props to Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh), and you can feel the love and care that was put into making it. It has all the makings of a Best Picture winner, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it walked away with the hardware.
Side note: Shoutout to the year Florence Pugh has had. She was great here, killed it in Fighting With My Family, and was the best part of Midsommar. Not only that, but she has a major role in the upcoming Black Widow as well. Talk about taking the world by storm.
The downside of posting my aforementioned Top 50 list first is the fact that I kinda sorta spoiled my Film of the Year. Sorry about that. But if you’ve seen Bong Joon-ho’s clever, insightful, and bonkers Parasite, you’d understand why it was so high on that list and is the top dog here. It’s an elaborate thriller that skewers the societal systems that are in place, their effects, and people of all different social standings. It takes no prisoners. What could’ve easily been a simple rich vs. poor narrative instead looks at the intricacies and the human element of the characters and the social classes in which they live. Beyond that, it’s a foreign film that reached levels of acclaim and acceptance amongst standard audiences that typically don’t happen. Not only does that reflect positively on the quality and story, but it helps open the door to more unique and non-American films. It shows the wide-reaching range of storytelling and the ability to recognize and embrace the fact that the triumphs and struggles of people half the world away are the same as ours.
Plus, let’s be real, that twist is nucking futs.