In the tail end of 2019, I reached an unthinkable dilemma. For whatever reason, I had stopped caring about movies—as a business, as a medium, and as an interest overall. Perhaps it was news coming out of the industry, or my growing admiration for other forms like video games and tabletop, or perhaps Avengers: Endgame, a movie that I genuinely think is good, exhausted me just that much.
Whatever the case, the final weeks of 2019 and the very beginning of 2020 represented a massive overcorrection, and it’s all well-documented on my Letterboxd profile.
After a screening of Parasite, I enthusiastically left the theater yelling the word “CINEMA!” in the streets. My love for film was slowly rekindled, and I reintegrated myself into Film Twitter to catch up with all of the hottest titles in indie film. I reopened Letterboxd on my phone, determined to update my diary with all of the films I had seen in 2019, leaving idiotic and snide one-liner reviews such as this:
And then I began to log all of the 2018 movies I’ve seen. Then 2017. Then 2016. And so on. It is now the end of January 2020, and I’m mostly through an absurd quest to log every single film I can ever remember watching in my life, whether it was in the theater, at home on cable TV, at a friend’s house, in high school Spanish class, and so on. Every short film, every Disney Channel Original Movie, every direct-to-DVD piece of schlock; no stone would be left unturned, with as of today, a log of 1,142 films in my profile.
This top 5 list will cover my favorite films of 2019, accompanied with whatever one-liner review I thought was funny at the time. I’ll follow this up with five Letterboxd reviews of mine for movies that I really did not like. Consider the following a celebration of my reignited enthusiasm for the medium, and a self-indulgent and shameless tribute to my snark.
5. Knives Out
You might as well call me a Rian Johnson hipster fan. Long before The Last Jedi, I was a champion of Brick, The Brothers Bloom, and Looper. While I was happy for Johnson’s big break, with his Star Wars being my favorite of the sequels and one that I defend to this very day, I was even more intrigued by his back-to-basics follow-up Knives Out. I don’t believe that this is my favorite film of Rian Johnson’s, but I think it goes to show just how smart a writer-director he’s become.
It is a throwback to mystery novels from the likes of Agatha Christie, yet it plays with formula and structure in a way that keeps the audience on their toes. It is very much a modernized variation of that type of story, down to the subject matter and political issues that the characters and scenarios inhabit. And it shows just how well Johnson knows how to handle a large ensemble cast with prolific actors, with all of the performers having their own highlights. While Daniel Craig and Chris Evans chewing the scenery and playing against type was a romp, Ana De Armas was a revelation. Keep doing you, Rian.
Going into a theater house in New York City, I had no clue what Promare had in store. All I knew was that it was some sort of firefighting mech anime, it was from the folks who had made Kill Kill, and some dude who looked like Kamina from Gurren Lagann was the main character. The theater was packed with loud and enthusiastic people in costume; whether it was for New York Comic-Con that weekend or entirely for this occasion is unknown to me, but regardless, I became one of them by the end of the night.
Promare is uneven, absurd, and excessive, and it provided probably one of the most enthralling viewing experiences I had in a movie theater this year. The Kamina-like firefighter Galo is an entertaining dumb himbo (look it up, if I’m speaking nonsense to you), and his counterpart and rival Lio Fortio of the Mad Burnish provided such a fun contrast. The plot kept escalating to a comedically exponential degree, but the colorful visuals and shapes and character designs had me hooked. Anime is mostly an alien concept to me, so I’m quite happy that I found an anime film that spoke my language.
Unpredictability and tension are the two traits that everyone discussing Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite will probably be discussing, but what I didn’t expect from the film was how funny it was. Well, the first half, at least. Watching this lower-class family slowly infiltrate this upper class family and their home was anxiety-inducing, yet thoroughly entertaining to watch these elaborate schemes pulled off with great success. There’s a lot of subtlety to Parasite, particularly from its pointed observations about class and cultural dynamics, and I reveled in all of the details
Once everything begins to unravel in the second half of the film, everything just begins to make sense. All that occurred by the end was inevitable, and it’s difficult to keep your eyes on the screen when you know that the characters are in for a collision course. The coda of the film was also deeply affecting, and I hope that filmgoers who see this film among all of the hype understand the meanings of the actions from all of the characters. In a way, Parasite can almost act as a Rorschach test to learn what they think of certain concepts.
2. The Farewell
While I hopped back on the cinema train and reignited my burning passion (sorry, still thinking of Promare) for film, I still had a long-running problem. For whatever reason, I’ve never been able to cry during movies. With that, The Farewell came extremely close. Out of all of the films that were released this year, Lulu Wang’s semi-autobiographical story is the one I projected myself the most into. It is distinctly an Asian-American story, and the way it handles and depicts the Asian-American experience is a massive reminder of why representation behind the camera is just as, maybe even more, important than in front of the camera.
It made me reflect on my own place in the States, and the weird, in-between nature of my nationality and my ethnicity. It’s hard to feel like a complete part of any one culture when all of them view you differently. In the end, it was the relationship with the protagonist’s grandmother that tugged at those rigid heartstrings the most. Everyone has a different relationship with their grandparents, and although the dynamic in The Farewell was quite differently from mine with my own grandmother, there was still a lot of overlap that resonated with me greatly. No, I didn’t bawl my eyes out, but the single tear I shed near the end is more than pretty much more than any other movie could claim.
Come on, people. Even if the story and characters aren’t your jam, you have to admit that 1917 is probably the best made film of 2019. Sam Mendes and Roger Deakins are able to take what is usually a gimmick, the whole “this film looks like one long take” thing, and justify it with a harrowing and stressful cinematic experience that still manages to have a lot of heart. There feels like a narrative and thematic purpose to this way of storytelling, and what these two characters go through is all the more powerful as a result.
Any one day in the trenches (or life in general, I suppose) isn’t guaranteed to be monotonous, and the way 1917 stitches together these scenes and scenarios goes to show how fast monotony can turn into chaos in a flash. The camerawork and lighting from Deakins and his team is nothing short of beautiful, and I found myself scanning the screen to check out every visual detail that the film wanted me to notice. Parasite may have made me yell, “CINEMA!” in the streets, but 1917 made me want to yell “How did they make that movie?” in the middle of the theater house. I didn’t particularly want to get kicked out, though.
2019 movies still on my Watchlist: Jojo Rabbit, The Lighthouse, Uncut Gems, The Irishman, The Art of Self-Defense, Booksmart, Us
I Am Mother