Top 15 Films of 2019 – Allen’s Picks
Shooting a film in one seemingly endless shot might be a gimmick, but in the hands of director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins, it becomes a bold form of artistic expression. 1917 is an exercise in tension-building, as we follow Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay’s British soldiers as they attempt to infiltrate enemy lines during the heart of WWI. The production design is a marvel to behold, as we weave our way through dense forests, blown out craters, labyrinthine caves, and crumbling cities, mostly in real time. The execution creates a sense of immersion, as though we are right there with the soldiers, tense with the anticipation that at any moment, we could be met with a hail of gunfire. This is a war film where the audience becomes an active participant.
10) Uncut Gems
Speaking of tension-filled, anxiety inducing films, Benny and Josh Safdie’s latest is a high-octane suspense thriller. It’s as though they took their narrative, put it in a vice, and tightened it ever so slowly right up to the breaking point. Adam Sandler delivers one of his all-time best performances as Howard, a jewel dealer with a serious gambling addiction. His character can’t get out of his own way, taking and flipping bets with money that isn’t his, getting stuck in predicaments of his own making. The suspense builds exponentially as Howard juggles loan sharks, celebrities, unreliable friends, his wife, his mistress, and gangsters all converging toward one another. The Safdie Brothers’ immense skill lays out this explosive story and only amps up the pressure as it goes along. This is one that I will most likely be revisiting many times in the future.
9) Apollo 11
The best documentary of the year goes to Todd Douglas Miller’s Apollo 11. Ignoring the traditional interview method, Miller incorporates archival audio recordings from those involved with the moon landing, as well as stunning 70mm footage never before seen. The result is a sensory experience in which we witness the enormity of the Apollo mission, and a how a group of people used science, ingenuity, and an unbending drive to accomplish the greatest technical feat of the 20th century. The story of Neil Armstrong first stepping foot on the moon is a well-known one, but never has it been captured with such crystal clear clarity. The Wright Brothers first achieved aviation in 1903, and it only took a mere 66 years later to get to the moon landing. That is simply mind boggling.
Part neo-noir, part puzzle box, David Robert Mitchell’s Under the Silver Lake is a baffling yet engrossing look at the underbelly of L.A. life. With its strange characters, a plot that folds within itself, and an intentionally absurd tone, many will charge the film as being overly indulgent and pretentious. But that is exactly what makes this tale such a mesmerizing experience. Mitchell doesn’t just throw things on the wall to see what will stick, there is a noticeable method to the madness. Andrew Garfield stars as a character who takes it upon himself to become the hero of missing person’s case, a case that isn’t necessarily asking for one. He ends up going on an odyssey of his own construction, bumbling his way like a low rent private eye. It’s rare to have a film keep one guessing the entire way through, setting up potential outcomes only to flip things around and surprise you.
Adapted from a New York Magazine article, Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers examines a group of New York strippers who took matters into their own hands after the 2008 financial crisis. What started out a prosperous scheme soon went south as the need for more put these women’s relationships and lives at risk. Jennifer Lopez gives a career best performance as the top dancer of her club and mastermind behind milking unsuspecting Wall Street agents for all they’re worth. Scafaria’s direction and screenplay, along with Kayla Emter’s editing, create a fast-paced world where the struggle to survive and the temptation for wealth forces people to make very bad decisions. This is a crime drama that is timely, prescient and insightful.
The relationship between Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson’s characters in Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story has such an emotional resonance because of how truthful it is. Divorce is an ugly affair, with an expensive and complicated legal process that pits two people against each other like mortal enemies. But divorce goes much deeper than that. These are people who have invested their entire lives to one another, who have shared hopes and dreams, who have supported each other through their most vulnerable times. Just because a marriage ends doesn’t take away everything that each partner has put in – they are forever linked despite no longer being in love. Driver and Johansson’s touching and raw performances are bolstered by Baumbach’s unobtrusive direction and pitch perfect writing. This is a showcase of honesty in all its beauty and brutality.