No. 1: Pain & Glory (Pedro Almodovar)
Antonio Banderas always does his best work with Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, and here, it’s among his very best movies. Banderas stars as an aging filmmaker whose career has been derailed by back pain and a mysterious illness that makes him choke. When a retrospective of one of his past movies arises, he reconnects with his estranged star of said movie and soon he’s addicted to heroin. But that’s only part of his story, and it’s often told through flashbacks to how he arrived at this point in his life. Storytelling is rarely done this beautifully.
Bong Joon-ho’s latest film is a black comedy about the class differences between the wealthy and poor in South Korea. It involves a poor family that steadily infiltrates itself into the good graces of a more affluent family. That’s all I want to say because it’s a joy watching everything unfold and be surprised at every turn.
One of the most buzzed-about movies in 2019 is also one of the best, and probably the most exciting. The Safdie Brothers return with a fast-paced thriller about a sleazy, Manhattan jeweler looking for a big score, while his life implodes. He has debt collectors following him constantly, his wife wants a divorce, his children know he’s basically absent, and basketball star Kevin Garnett wants a rare opal. He tries to keep everyone at bay while he waits for his latest scheme to pay off.
No. 4: The Nightingale (Jennifer Kent)
Jennifer Kent followed up the cult hit/Halloween costume The Babadook with this revenge thriller set in rural Tasmania around 1825. Aisling Franciosi has a star-making role as Clare, an Irish convict who watches British soldiers commit the most brutal atrocities against her and her family and tries to hunt down those responsible. It’s a deeply uncomfortable journey no one should have to take, but I’m glad I got to go along for the ride.
I have been a fan of Lynn Shelton and her films at least since Hump Day, but I didn’t realize until this new film, Sword of Trust, that working with a professional comedian (in this case, Marc Maron) would be what takes her to the next level. Sword of Trust is probably the funniest movie I saw this year, and also the best comedy. It’s also the only movie on this list I’d re-watch for pleasure.
QT’s revisionist history of the Sharon Tate murder and Hollywood under Charles Manson’s thumb is incredibly creative and a wild ride. It’s often very funny an boasts a first-rate cast. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt make a great team as has-been actor Rick Dalton and his sidekick/stuntman, but Margot Robbie steals every scene as the effervescent Tate. OK, I’d probably also watch this one for pleasure, too.
No. 7: Gloria Bell (Sebastian Lelio)
Sebastian Lelio’s superior emotional quotient is perfectly paired with Julianne Moore, who stars as a middle-aged divorcee navigating a new chapter in her life. She’s a free spirit but does each man that she potentially sees herself with have to be so emotionally unavailable? It’s an outstanding movie held together by Moore’s remarkable performance (in a career full of them).
I am so jealous of Slate for coming up with the perfect headline when they wrote “The Lighthouse is both Artsy and Fartsy.” The black-and-white hallucination where Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe is a dream for those of us who love seeing good acting in film. A very weird dream, but a dream nonetheless. It’s a gripping movie about two lighthouse workers trying to maintain their sanity while isolated from the rest of the world.
The life and career of my favorite film critic is celebrated and remembered in this great documentary. Sarah Jessica Parker brings Pauline Kael’s words to life on the screen and an eclectic collection of filmmakers, critics, and assorted thinkers remember her fondly (for the most part).
No. 10: Climax (Gaspar Noe)
A French dance party gets tainted with some LSD-infused sangria and everything quickly goes to hell in the most discomfiting movie I’ve ever seen. It’s repulsive to watch, with a few moments bordering on vile, but also utterly absorbing. When I left the theater, I could barely walk upright: it felt like I was drunk without having any booze at like 2:00 PM on a Wednesday. I think that’s a compliment.
Ten more movies I was fond of:
- American Factory
- Banana Split
- The Farewell
- Ford vs. Ferrari
- Frozen 2
- The Irishman
- Knives Out
- Richard Jewell
And finally, my favorite movies of the decade:
- 2010: Black Swan
- 2011: Drive
- 2012: Holy Motors
- 2013: Blue Jasmine
- 2014: Life Itself
- 2015: Carol
- 2016: The Handmaiden
- 2017: Good Time
- 2018: Disobedience
- 2019: Pain & Glory