Categories
Film

Favorite Films of 2019


Having already conquered my list of favorite films of the 2010s, I found this list much easier to assemble. I knew my movie watching would take a hit when my son was born last February, and it did, though not as much as I expected. My logbook tells me I watched 63 films in 2019, which is only 10 fewer than 2018. Turned out my 9pm-12am baby shift was perfect for catching up on titles old and new (though I can’t say I was always fully awake for all of them). Props to Netflix, Amazon Prime, Kanopy, and my library card for making that happen.

10. Ad Astra. Apocalypse Now meets Gravity. Can’t say I endorse the use of narration, but Brad Pitt plus a lunar car chase plus a personal/cosmic quest more than made up for it.

9. Booksmart. Charming as hell.

8. Toy Story 4. What do you do when your worldview crumbles?

7. The Irishman. One day I’ll have time to rewatch this straight through rather than broken up over several days. I suspect I’ll appreciate it even more then.

6. Avengers: Endgame. There was a 1 in 14,000,605 chance this MCU saga ended well, and they nailed it.

5. Apollo 11. A fresh, intimate, and riveting perspective of a world-famous event.

4. Parasite. Had I made this list immediately after seeing this, it would have been lower. But I haven’t stopped thinking about it.

3. The Lighthouse. I watched this alone since I knew my wife wouldn’t enjoy it, but I showed her the first meal scene just so she could behold Willem Dafoe.

2. Knives Out. Rian Johnson knows how to make a movie. A little goofy at times, but the scenery-chewing fun and all-time ending made for an exhilarating ride.

1. Little Women. Yes to everything: Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet together, Florence Pugh’s difficult yet delightful age-spanning performance, Desplat’s score, Chris Cooper as a good guy, Gerwig’s time-turning script that (compared to my beloved 1994 version) redeems Amy and enriches Beth, Gerwig’s direction of the Altmanesque ensemble scenes, the grand exuberance permeating this little world. Gerwig’s Lady Bird didn’t hit me as hard as it did others, but this one knocked me out.

Honorable mentions: Zombieland: Double Tap, The FarewellUs, El Camino, Knock Down the House, Once Upon A Time… in Hollywood, Hustlers, The Report, Marriage Story, High Flying Bird

Favorite non-2019 films:

The Big Country
Hard Eight
Jackie Brown
Minding the Gap
A Clockwork Orange
Saturday Night Fever
Swingers
Cold War
The Talented Mr. Ripley
The Wages of Fear

Categories
Film

Little Women

I was a good amount into a post celebrating the 1994 film Little Women when I discovered I was basically writing Alissa Wilkinson’s appreciation of the film at Vox from last year. It’s one of many movies I watched a lot with my sisters as a kid, in rotation with other female-focused ’90s films like Ever After, Never Been Kissed, Return to Me and You’ve Got Mail. (Also the Ace Ventura duology.)

In my mind it was a Christmas movie, but after my latest rewatch I realized it’s not. Its Christmas and winter scenes might be the best ones, but they are only part of the story that follows the passing seasons and growth of a Civil War-era New England family.

This time around I understood more historical context than I could have as a kid, context that grounds the story in its particular time. Jo mentioning the March family’s adherence to Transcendentalism, for instance, and the gravity of Beth contracting scarlet fever in a time of epidemics and poor medicine, which forces uninoculated Amy to be sent away. And despite living in what looks like a nice, big house, the March family is struggling through trying times. Writes Wilkinson:

The Civil War is still taking place when the story begins, Mr. March is away with the military, and money and rations are tight. Meg is embarrassed about her clothing, Amy doesn’t have the faddish pickled limes that her peers trade and eat at school, and things are actually quite difficult.

Navigating these challenges while cohering as a family is what makes the film a delight, and much more than just a Christmas movie. A big part of this is its soundtrack by Thomas Newman, who also scored The Shawshank Redemption in the same year and got Oscar nominations for both films. (The Lion King beat them and Forrest Gump.) The score even sounds like Christmas, writes Wilkinson, with Newman’s

strings, bells, oboes, and some joyful melodic patterns. There’s a hum of happiness to Newman’s soundtrack that reminds me of the season, a buoyancy that portends a new year, new surprises, new life.

In addition to capturing a nostalgic Christmas feeling, the score is exactly what it needs to be moment to moment, throughout the seasons and circumstances. Lush and triumphant at a climactic encounter, tender and dramatic when Jo sells her hair to pay for Marmie’s train ticket to visit their ailing father. (Sidenote: Susan Sarandon was nominated for Best Actress for The Client that year, along with Winona Ryder for Little Women, but she could have earned a nod for that scene alone:)

In one sense: Duh, a good soundtrack should appropriately underscore moments and moods. A great soundtrack like this one, however, makes its film better.