2019 Ten Best List


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     As time moves forward, we will likely look back on 2019 as the year where Disney positioned an unprecedented number of tent poles througout the release calendar, including series ending installments from Marvel and Lucasfilm, in an effort to ensure audiences would be well aware of the IPs in sole possession of the Mouse House as they prepared to unleash Disney +, their unrivaled contribution to the ongoing streaming wars.  It was Disney's most significant contribution to filmdom in 2019 that kicks off my list of the Ten Best Films of the Year.

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     As the 22nd and final film of the three phase Marvel Cinematic Universe that began with 2008’s “Ironman”, “Avengers: End Game" accomplishes one very important thing.  It gives the audience exactly what they want.  The superhero juggernaut would go on to become the highest grossing film worldwide of all time, besting the ten year old record set by 2009’s “Avatar", and was, by far, the most talked about event film of the year.  With the characters fully developed over some fifty hours of screentime within the eleven year journey of the series, the accomplishment of bringing this universe to life may very well be one of the greatest cinematic feats in history.  And “Avengers: End Game” delivers an emotion filled narrative while achieving something few films of the comic book genre ever have in that you come away from the experience completely satisfied.

     Movies that are actually about something, even if the issue is hidden deep within the core of its narrative, typically succeed as being much more than merely entertainment.  Director Josh Cooley and his collaborators behind “Toy Story 4”, the fourth entry in Disney/Pixar’s flagship franchise, clearly set out to bring forth the fact that society has allowed children to skip what is perhaps the most important portion of their childhoods in favor of mindless technology that slowly poisons their impressionable brains. The film encourages children, by example of a  kindergarten aged girl, to see the importance of imagination and creativity without the use of technology, while demonstrating the value of playing with actual toys, even if they are made during an arts and crafts class at school.

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 With all of the bravado on the technical side of Sam Mendes’ “1917", it’s easy to overlook the startling performances by both Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay, whose work explores the very depths of their character’s soul and provides a very human interpretation of what it is like to fight in a war, while leaving everyone you care about behind.  Often times not knowing whether or not you will ever see them again.  That the story begins and ends in a similar location is symbolic of what everyone in this situation already knows.  You may have survived the battle today, but it is now time to begin preparing for the battle tomorrow.  War is hell, and “1917” depicts this idea in its most raw form.

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     Writer/director Greta Gerwig's “Little Women” is beautifully shot, evoking the period with stunning costumes and an exquisitely detailed production design.  Her frequent collaborator Saoirse Ronan again establishes herself as one of the finest actors of her generation, but it is the performances by the entire ensemble cast that bring the story to life.  All of which is made possible by Gerwig’s screenplay, which emphasizes aspects of the story that are eerily comparable to many of the issues we deal with today, including equal pay for women and their standing in an entertainment industry traditionally dominated by men. 

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     With “Joker”, Todd Phillips has made a film that will endure.  Not just this year, but likely forever.  This is what the underbelly of the comic book genre looks like.  No, it’s not the buffed out ultra patriotic look of a Captain America, nor does it feature the shiny advanced tech of an Iron Man.  Instead, “Joker” is a direct reflection of us and where society is heading if we don’t find a way to come together and heal. Led by Joaquin Phoenix’s haunting performance, the film literally turned the genre upside down and in the process has recreated an adversary likely to do quite a bit of damage before the inevitable showdown with the Caped Crusader in a future installment.

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      The ensemble Martin Scorsese brings together for “The Irishman" is one of the best of the year.  In addition to the top billed cast, which features Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci, there a number of standout performers who provide important supporting roles during key scenes including Ray Romano as Bill Bufalino, the family’s lawyer; Anna Paquin as Peggy Sheeran, Frank’s oldest daughter; Stephen Graham as Anthony “Tony Pro” Provenzano, a union boss and made guy who clashes with Jimmy Hoffa; and Jesse Plemons as Chuckie O’Brien, Hoffa’s foster son.  Pesci may have delivered the most calming performance of his career, while Pacino is perfect for the ranting and loud Jimmy Hoffa, but De Niro proves yet again why he is the best actor of his generation, providing a nuanced take on the Frank Sheeran character that proves both compassionate and scary at the same time.

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     Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out” is one of those rare films where the dialogue and story remain front and center, leaving the audience not only satisfied, but wondering how a film like this could be pulled off in today’s landscape of mind numbing big budget spectacles.  The film is a complex and well layered character study of the inner workings of a wealthy family and the monsters within that are created through years of entitlement and expectation.  It’s both timely and extremely entertaining. Essentially, the plot focuses on a murder mystery, but it’s where all of this ends up when you realize how well crafted “Knives Out” really is, with the tables turning instantly in a way that remains unpredictable and devilishly clever.

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     Led by powerful performances from Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson,    Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story” serves as a poignant and emotional look into a divorcing couple who must bring forth some level of clarity to the situation for their son who is left in the middle of a conflict he didn’t ask for.  Baumbach stages sequences that will be all too familiar for those who have endured this life altering process, including the eventual mud slinging in front of a full courtroom where accusations fly in the name of gaining an advantage for custody of the child.  The kind of crude gestures that lead to court appointed evaluators observing your parenting skills at home or interviewing your child and asking which parent they want to spend more time with.  Marriage Story" will no doubt conjure a series of painful memories for anyone who has been through this, but you will also realize life continues to move forward and you may be stronger today as a result of the experience.  

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     Director Bong Joon-hoParasite is the kind of cinematic creation that through the test of time may be worthy of consideration for a ten best films of the decade list.  The performances by the ensemble cast power the story to heights we wouldn’t expect from a comedic take on the differences between the poor and the wealthy.  This kind of material typically delves into a series of stereotypes that often stray from the realities of life in order to give certain groups of people identifiable characteristics in a story.  Joon-ho avoids that trap by building the worlds of the two families from the ground up.  You believe the Parks minimalistic, yet impeccably decorated mansion is truly their home, as the details of the kid’s bedrooms, the living room that looks out into a lush green backyard, and the kitchen area where the housekeeper is constantly preparing meals are all indicative of a well appointed lifestyle seemingly operating like a well oiled machine.  But that’s until the Kims enter the fray.  Bringing with them the clutter of their disorganized and frantic lives where money is difficult to come by and their nightly entertainment resides with the regular appearance of a drunk who utilizes their apartment window as a toilet.  It’s the kind of film destined to be studied by film academics and cinephiles alike for years to come.

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     Quentino Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood” is the best film of 2019, the period piece, featuring the director’s signature brand of revisionist history, boasts Oscar worthy performances by both Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, supported by a game ensemble capable of commanding the screen in their own right.  These scenery chewing performers include Margot Robbie,  Al Pacino, Timothy Olyphant, Kurt Russell, Bruce Dern, Damian Lewis, Margaret Qualley, Luke Perry, and many more who make a memorable impact.  There are just too many fantastic scenes and performances to mention, which practically begs for repeat viewings in order to absorb the details you may have missed, a testament to the heft of Tarantinos screenplay.  Its difficult to say if this is Tarantinos masterpiece, given a filmography that includes “Pulp Fiction”, “Kill Bill”, “Django Unchained” among others, but in making a film about Hollywood and particualrly the struggle nearly every movie star endures when they come to realize their relevance is waning, the legendary filmmaker brings forth a timeless classic about an era when the film industry was losing its innocence and changing forever.  No film in 2019 can match its exceptional combination of screenwriting, acting, production design, and ingenious creativity.

THE TOP 10 FILMS OF 2019 BY JASON HARNEY

10.  AVENGERS: END GAME - My Review

9.    TOY STORY 4 - My Review

8.    1917 - My Review

7.    LITTLE WOMEN  - My Review

6.    JOKER  - My Review

5.    THE IRISHMAN - My Review

4.     KNIVES OUT - My Review

3.     MARRIAGE STORY - My Review

2.     PARASITE - My Review

1.     ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD -  My Review