By A.J. Harris
The things that entertain us, the movies, books, and music, can be just simple time-wasters or guilty pleasures. Or they can mean something, and effect us in ways we couldn’t foresee. Here are some of the best movies of 2019.
A dark and twisted take on DC’s Crown Prince of Crime, Joker is at times horrific and electrifying, thanks to the unflinching performance of Joaquin Phoenix, hitting a new high in a career full of highs. Todd Phillips, known previously for his bro-comedy acumen, takes risks behind the camera like a director with nothing to lose. But this movie belongs to Phoenix, bringing devastation, ambiguity, and chaos to Arthur Fleck, often all at once. He should prepare his speech now for the Oscars.
4. The Irishman
A three-and-a-half hour mobster movie in which nothing really new is brought to the table. Why bother? Because it’s Martin Scorsese, directing his magnum opus, and so attention must be paid. Robert De Niro plays Bufalino crime family hitman Frank Sheeran, from his days as a crime acolyte to a rueful old man. Al Pacino brings menace and affability to teamster kingpin Jimmy Hoffa, but it’s the glorious Joe Pesci who steals the film as Frank’s crime mentor Russell Bufalino, bringing a self awareness and sadness to the crime boss not normally portrayed in similar characters. The movie is long, but it never feels that way, without a single minute of its 209 minute run time wasted.
3. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
The ninth film from troublemaker Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood takes us to the schlock-glory days of Tinseltown during the rise of the Manson Family.
Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt play a fading movie star and his stunt man, respectively, with Margot Robbie as the ill-fated Sharon Tate. But this is Tarantino we’re talking about, whose revisionist universe always surprises. Shot with a pink-flamingo kitsch, this version of Hollywood is sunny with a layer of grime underneath. And the film’s climax is something not soon forgotten.
In 2017, Jordan Peele, in his first time in the director’s chair, made the genre-redefining instant classic Get Out, and his follow up proves that in some cases there is no such thing as a sophomore slump. Us follows the Wilson family as they battle mysterious beings who are dark reflections of themselves, as matriarch Adelaide, played by a stunning Lupita Nyong’o, battles with the just as sinister mysteries of her past. While Peele’s previous effort was biting satire disguised as a horror movie, Us is a horror movie that forces the audience to look around and really see how warped the concept of the American Dream has become. Peele is fearless as he frightens.
1. Knives Out
There was not a movie in 2019 that brought more fun and smarts to the cinema than Knives Out, a modern who-done-it of the finest order. The all-star cast is extraordinary, with Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Toni Collette firing on all cylinders. But it is would-be ingenue Ana de Armas that is a revelation as caretaker Marta, who vomits every time she tries to lie. Rian Johnson, who previously made the most original Star Wars movie in years, knows when to be clever and when to keep from drowning in that same cleverness, directs with an intelligence that takes the Agatha Christie formula and turns it into something unique. And just when you think that you might have figured it all out, something new is revealed, leaving you guessing yet again and happy to be doing so. Intrigue and mystery has never been this stylish or this entertaining.
A.J. Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org