Our favorite movies of 2019

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1. The Irishman- Martin Scorsese’s mob epic is an electrifying and ultimately devastating portrait of memory and moral decay. The decade-spanning tale is told from the perspective of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), a meat truck driver who lies, robs and kills his way up the mafia ladder before finding himself as a right-hand man to the infamous union leader Jimmy Hoffa (a livewire Al Pacino). De Niro, Pacino and Joe Pesci (who came out of retirement to deliver perhaps his finest performance here) play their characters at every age through the movie, which required the use of a de-aging technology to make them appear as younger men. The transformation is particularly stunning for De Niro, not only because he convincingly plays the central character from ambitious family man to his later days alone in a nursing home, but because it adds to the unreliability of his character’s point of view. No matter how effective the de-aging is, you’re always looking at De Niro, and The Irishman ultimately comes off as the tale of an old man rummaging through his past for scraps of glory and stumbling onto emptiness.

2. Her Smell- Elisabeth Moss continues to prove she’s one of the greatest actresses of her generation in Her Smell, her third and (so far) most electrifying collaboration with writer/director Alex Ross Perry. Divided into five extended scenes, each a day in the life of punk rocker Becky Something (Moss), Her Smell is a story of addiction and recovery that is by turns claustrophobic, ruthlessly uncomfortable and, ultimately, incredibly moving. The scene where a newly sober Becky sings Bryan Adams’ “Heaven” to her young daughter is one of the single most shattering of the year.

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Our favorite performances of 2019

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1. Elisabeth Moss- Her Smell- The collaborations between Elisabeth Moss and director Alex Ross Perry have yielded some of the most memorable performances of the last several years, but she reaches electrifying new heights as the punk rocker Becky Something in his latest film. Her Smell is a story of addiction and recovery that is by turns claustrophobic, ruthlessly uncomfortable and, ultimately, incredibly moving. Much of the movie is structured around the horrifying anticipation of what Becky might do next, and Moss’ chaotic physicality and manic line readings build and build until the movie quite literally can’t take it anymore. In the second half, when a newly sober Becky sings Bryan Adams’ “Heaven” to her young daughter, the full emotional scope of Moss’ brilliant performance comes into focus.

2. Joe Pesci- The Irishman- Joe Pesci came out of retirement to deliver perhaps his greatest performance in Martin Scorsese’s mob epic. As Russell Bufalino, the head of a powerful crime family, he holds a quiet power over every scene he’s in. That power is sometimes used to devastating effect, calling attention to moments where the fear and reverence he inspires professionally have no effect, like when he tries to impress an associate’s young daughter.

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Short takes: Richard Jewell, Dark Waters & A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

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Richard Jewell- Clint Eastwood’s latest, about the security guard caught up in the Centennial Park bombing during the 1996 summer Olympics in Atlanta, is infuriating on several levels. It is a perfect fit for late-period Eastwood, a study of a man who performed an act of everyday heroism only to wind up entangled in sinister, complex bureaucracies. Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) was an AT&T security guard who was hailed as a hero after helping clear people away from the bomb, only to then be vilified after it leaked that he was being investigated by the FBI as a prime suspect in planting the bomb.

The Jewell of Eastwood’s film is reverent of law enforcement to an increasingly uncomfortable degree, and Hauser is devastating when conveying the conflicting emotions at play as his character tries to be deferential to the authorities as they openly mock and try to lock him up. Equally devastating is Kathy Bates as Jewell’s mother Bobi; she is great at showing how uncomfortable and horrified the character is with the intrusiveness of the investigation and the media spectacle.

Richard Jewell has generated quite a bit of controversy for its portrayal of Kathy Scruggs, the late Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter who broke the story about Jewell being a focus of the FBI investigation into the bombing. Olivia Wilde gives an energetic, determined performance as Scruggs, but the role is incredibly poorly written and falls prey to an unsettling trope about on-screen female journalists sleeping with their sources. As a study of a man in the claustrophobic death grip of weaponized governmental institutions, Richard Jewell is exceedingly effective. When it ventures outside of that story, though, it is decidedly weaker. Grade: C+

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Our favorite movies of the 2010s

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Every “best of” list is defined by what’s absent, both to the people who read them and those who assemble them. The act of whittling them down, of deciding to choose one movie over another, can be difficult. What’s equally daunting are the hundreds of movies I’d have liked to see for the first time that could have made this list, or the ones I saw for the first time and didn’t realize I loved. I look forward to discovering them in the years to come and tweaking my list on Letterboxd accordingly. Looking back on the 2010s from its final days, these are the movies that left the biggest impression. Consider this list a snapshot. Tomorrow it might have turned out differently. -Matt

1. The Wolf of Wall Street- The best film of the last 10 years is Martin Scorsese’s 3-hour epic of depraved greed. The Wolf of Wall Street is both a grotesque creation and the decade’s funniest film. Tracing the turbulent rise and fall of the stockbroker Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), Scorsese uses his insatiable desire for money to expose a rot at the heart of American society. The movie is designed from the ground-up around the everyday excess and debauchery of Belfort and his colleagues at the New York firm Stratton Oakmont. In their offices, Scorsese portrays an anarchic space of endlessly screaming executives, where a marching band plays in their underwear, and Belfort’s partner in crime (an exceptional Jonah Hill) eats a nerdy broker’s goldfish and then fires him.

This is also the place where Belfort goes on a series of extended, frightening rants, a Quaalude king to a group of privileged minions. “There is no nobility in poverty,” he tells them in one scene. “I have been a rich man and I have been a poor man, and I’d choose rich every fuckin’ time.” As brilliantly embodied by DiCaprio, Belfort is a seething ball of rage produced by sexual frustration. He can have anything he wants, and often does, but when confronted with the intimacy of a woman, he orgasms in 11 seconds. The Wolf of Wolf Street is a necessary battle cry from artists at the absolute peak of their power. It’s a boundlessly confident achievement, and a bombardment of pure cinema.

2. Carol- From the moment Therese Belivet locks eyes with Carol Aird across a busy 1950s New York City department store, that’s that. Their first look is a barrage of confusion and longing, of instant connection stifled by societal codes.Therese (Rooney Mara) and Carol (Cate Blanchett) spend much of the rest of Todd Hayne’s immaculate, sensuous film trying and sometimes failing to express how they feel about each other. For Therese (Rooney Maray) specifically, attraction to another woman is not something she seems to have given herself permission to consider, until now.

What Carol does so beautifully, what makes it the most ravishing romance this side of In the Mood for Love, is that it slows down to examine the minute gestures, to chronicle every touch, every glance that leads to their love affair. The moment where Carol looks over her shoulder while picking out a Christmas tree and Therese snaps a photo of her seems like it has always existed. It’s one of many that took my breath away.

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REVIEW: Joker

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Joker
Directed by: Todd Phillips
Written by: Todd Phillips and Scott Silver
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, and Frances Conroy

The most interesting thing about Joker is the built-in audience history its main actors, Joaquin Phoenix and Robert De Niro, bring to their respective roles. Director Todd Phillips’ R-rated origin story of the anarchic clown who torments Batman culminates in a late night talk show appearance featuring the two. Arthur Fleck (Phoenix), a party clown turned unstable killer, goes on the show after video of his disastrous stand-up comedy performance was mocked by the host, Murray Franken (De Niro).

During this scene, it was impossible not to think about Phoenix’s notoriously awkward 2009 appearance on the Late Show With David Letterman. I remember this cringe-worthy I’m Still Here-era interview defining my perception of the actor until I saw him a few years later in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, which remains one of the greatest performances of the decade.

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Short takes: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood & The Lion King

Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood — The clock is ticking for Quentin Tarantino. His latest film, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, is expressly billed as his ninth. For years, he has insisted that he will quit filmmaking after 10. ” I just think I’ve given all I have to give to movies,” he told GQ Australia.

If that’s true, and this latest outing really is his penultimate effort, that’s too bad. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood may be his most relaxed and confident movie, luxuriating in its immaculate recreation of L.A. circa 1969 as seen from the vantage point of various people inside, outside and somewhere on the periphery of show business. Focusing primarily on the friendship between the borderline-washed-up actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stuntman Cliff (Brad Pitt), the movie follows them through awkward dinner meetings, bungled set visits and drunken nights out (and in).

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My 2019 Oscar predictions

Best Picture: BlacKkKlansman,, Black Panther, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Favourite, Green Book, Roma, A Star is Born, Vice

  • Will Win: Though I wouldn’t put it past the Academy to name Bohemian Rhapsody or Green Book Best Picture, I think Roma will win. 
  • Should Win: This is the weakest line-up of Best Picture nominees in several years. The only one I truly love is BlacKkKlansman, and it would be great to see Spike Lee’s movie pull an upset. 
  • Left out:  I would completely throw out the nominees in this category, except for BlacKkKlansman. The rest of my line-up would be: The Other Side of the Wind, Let the Sunshine In, Madeline’s Madeline, Burning, If Beale Street Could Talk, Support the Girls and Monrovia, Indiana. You can see the rest of my favorite movies of the year here.

Best Director: Alfonso Cuarón (Roma), Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite), Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman), Adam McKay (Vice), Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War)

  • Will Win: Even if Roma doesn’t win the night’s big award, Cuarón is almost sure to win his second Best Director Oscar for it. 
  • Should Win: Again, it would be great to see Spike Lee win here. 
  • Left out: Toss out everyone but Spike and nominate Josephine Decker, Claire Denis, Orson Welles and Lee Chang-dong. 

Best Actor: Christian Bale (Vice), Bradley Cooper (A Star is Born), Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate), Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody), Viggo Mortensen (Green Book)

  • Will Win: I don’t know why it’s between Malek and Bale, but it is. In the end I think Malek’s Freddie Mercury impersonation will beat Bale’s Dick Cheney one. 
  • Should Win: Bradley Cooper is the best he’s ever been in A Star is Born. 
  • Left out: The biggest snub here is Ethan Hawke’s incredible work in First Reformed. I’d also have picked John Huston in The Other Side of the Wind, Clint Eastwood in The Mule, John David Washington in BlacKkKlansman and Tom Cruise in the latest Mission: Impossible.

Best Actress: Yalitza Aparicio (Roma), Glenn Close (The Wife), Olivia Colman (The Favourite), Lady Gaga (A Star is Born), Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

  • Will Win: Glenn Close has been winning trophy after trophy for her performance as a woman whose husband’s accolades unearth decades worth of pain and resentment. She will win this one too.  
  • Should Win: Close is very good in The Wife, though the rest of the movie is not. I have no problem with her winning, though Melissa McCarthy would be my choice for her exceptional performance in an exceptional movie. 
  • Left out: Juliette Binoche and Helena Howard gave the year’s two best performances in Let the Sunshine In and Madeline’s Madeline, respectively. I’d keep McCarthy with them and also include Regina Hall in Support the Girls and Kathryn Hahn in Private Life

Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali (Green Book), Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman), Sam Elliott (A Star is Born), Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), Sam Rockwell (Vice)

  • Will Win: It seems like Ali is almost certain to win his second Oscar, though I could see Grant sneaking through. 
  • Should Win: Grant easily gives the best performance in this category, though Driver is good as well. 
  • Left out: I’d leave Grant and add Stephen Yeun in Burning, Tom Waits in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Michael B. Jordan in Black Panther and Cedric the Entertainer in First Reformed 

Best Supporting Actress: Amy Adams (Vice), Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk), Emma Stone (The Favourite), Marina de Tavira (Roma), Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)

  • Will Win: Regina King is the only acting front-runner who deserves to be the front-runner.  
  • Should Win: Again, King is the queen of this category. 
  • Left out: Though Weisz and Stone are good in The Favourite, I’d take them out and swap in another duo: either Haley Lu Richardson and Shayna McHayle in Support the Girls or Miranda July and Molly Parker in Madeline’s Madeliene. I also would have liked to see Jun Jong-seo get some attention for her performance in Burning.

Best Original Screenplay: The Favourite (Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara), First Reformed (Paul Schrader), Green Book (Nick Vallelonga, Peter Farrelly), Roma (Alfonso Cuarón), Vice (Adam McKay)

  • Will Win: The Favourite, though I regret to inform you that Green Book could take it as well
  • Should Win: Paul Schrader easily deserves this one
  • Left out: Andrew Bujalski for Support the Girls, Tamara Jenkins for Private Life, Oja Kodar and Orson Welles for The Other Side of the Wind, and Josephine Decker and Donna di Novelli for Madeline’s Madeline.

Best Adapted Screenplay: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Joel Coen, Ethan Coen), BlacKkKlansman (Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz), Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Nicole Holofcener, Jeff Whitty), If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins), A Star is Born (Eric Rother, Will Getters, Bradley Cooper)

  • Will Win: BlacKkKlansman
  • Should Win: Any award that BlacKkKlansman wins is fine with me, though I would pick Can You Every Forgive Me? or If Beale Street Could Talk here instead. 
  • Left out: One of the most solid categories this year, though I would have liked to see Lucrecia Martel nominated for Zama and Lee Chang-dong and Oh Jung-mi for Burning.

Predictions in the remaining categories (Will win/Should win)

Cinematography: Roma/A Star is Born

Animated Feature: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse/Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (The only other one I saw in this category was Incredibles 2. Meh.)

Costume DesignBlack Panther/Black Panther

Production DesignBlack Panther/Black Panther

EditingBohemian Rhapsody/BlacKkKlansman

Foreign Language FilmRoma/Cold War (Burning should have been nominated in this category and would have been my pick to win) 

Documentary: I haven’t seen any of these, but will guess that Free Solo will win.

Makeup: Vice/Sure

Original ScoreBlack Panther/If Beale Street Could Talk

Original Song: “Shallow” from A Star is Born/I still listen to it almost every day so yes I think it should win

Visual Effects:  Avengers: Infinity War/Ready Player One

Sound Editing: Bohemian Rhapsody/First Man

Sound Mixing: A Star is Born/First Man

Our favorite movies of 2018

1. The Other Side of the Wind— After sitting unfinished for decades, Orson Welles has a new film. The Other Side of the Wind, a bleak and bleakly funny dig at the movie industry, centers on Jake Hannaford (John Huston), a drunken, disillusioned movie director.  His birthday celebration becomes an excuse for all manner of people to gather and talk shit about him while enjoying his latest movie (also called The Other Side of the Wind). Shot like a mockumentary from a variety of perspectives of people at the party and interspersed with stunning footage of Hannaford’s movie-within-a-movie, The Other Side of the Wind is as disorienting as it is difficult to shake. Welles’ last completed film is a bitter vision of a rotting, death-stalked Hollywood, and a masterpiece.

2. Let the Sunshine In— Claire Denis’ Let the Sunshine In moves to the beat of Juliette Binoche. The two French titans prove a revelatory pairing, matching Denis’ inimitable rendering of bodies searching for connection with Binoche’s conjuring of simultaneous conflicting feelings. In telling the story of Isabelle, a painter stuck dancing between romance and disappointment, Denis structures the movie more around the character’s emotional whims than along a traditional narrative. Though her encounters with men end mostly with disappointment, Isabelle’s sudden eruptions of passion, including during a show-stopping, Etta James-backed dance sequence, suggest that her endless cycle of pursuits is not in vain.

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Our favorite performances of 2018

1. Juliette Binoche- Let the Sunshine In- The key to Juliette Binoche’s performance as Isabelle in Let the Sunshine In is in the way she and director Claire Denis show us the character searching; searching for love among a group of less than stellar contenders, searching for meaning in the space between those affairs, searching for the right emotion in any given moment. Several sometimes wash over Binoche’s face within the span of just seconds. That her performance seems so natural amid such a rapidly shifting emotional landscape is a testament to her brilliance.

2. Helena Howard- Madeline’s Madeline- Easily the year’s great breakout performance, Helena Howard is front and center in Josephine Decker’s swirling fever dream of a movie. Howard and Decker thrust viewers into the head of Madeline, a teenager battling mental illness who is also part of an experimental theater troupe. Howard’s rapid shifts in mood within scenes is astonishing, and much of the movie’s energy is built around the risk of her throwing any given moment into chaos.

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Short takes: Support the Girls, Madeline’s Madeline, Mission: Impossible- Fallout & Searching

Support the Girls — Director Andrew Bujalski finds the perfect encapsulation of his vision of modern American capitalism in Double Whammies, the Hooters knockoff sports bar where much of his latest film, Support the Girls, takes place. The restaurant operates on bizarrely specific codes built on the unspoken transaction between its jean shorts and tight t-shirt wearing female wait staff and its horny (mostly) male clientele. Bujalski and his ensemble are astute observers of workplace behavior, notably the glimpses of personality that bleed through the faces the characters try to wear at work. Professionalism at Double Whammies means a constant smile, and a tiptoe up to a sexual boundary with customers that becomes awkward and uncomfortable very quickly.

That’s where Lisa (Regina Hall) comes in. Lisa is a compassionate, intuitive general manager, tasked with passing down the vision of the restaurant owner to the staff while also mediating conflicts between them and the sometimes insulting, sometimes worse customers. One of the many pleasures of Support the Girls is in how Bujalski and Hall show the toll patrolling that managerial tightrope takes on Lisa. Much of the movie is focused on a single day, following her on a series of menial tasks that she nevertheless executes with great purpose. Her job is a lonely one; she has to be friendly but not too friendly, stern but not too stern with her staff and customers. The exhaustion seems to be catching up to her, as evidenced by the way it washes over Hall’s face before she snaps out of it and onto the next task. Double Whammies doesn’t deserve someone like Lisa; in fact Bujalski suggests the restaurant and its customers don’t deserve many of its employees, either. Support the Girls finds its humor and quite a bit of emotional resonance in the matter-of-fact exploration of the everyday disconnect between how the employees interact with each other, and how they are trained to interact with customers. Grade: B+ 

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