The Movie Sleuth's Top 5 of 2019

The TMS Top 5 of 2019

Many of The Movie Sleuth writers have considered 2019 a great year for cinema. From blockbusters, to indie titles, and foreign films, our top 5 shows the same diversity we saw in the theater this year. Although there were dozens of great features to pick from, this is what we came up with by using a group voting system. Hopefully you enjoy our picks. 

#5 Midsommar

In a follow-up to critically-acclaimed Hereditary, Midsommar delivers as another idiosyncratic horror film. Midsommar also functions as an inverted allegory: wherein the “bigger”, more diegetic story is that of a cultish group who celebrates the Summer Solstice through sacrifice; the “smaller” story, but perhaps the more salient one, is that of a young woman who is trying to figure out her way through a relationship wherein her boyfriend is gaslighting her.

A key feature in Midsommar, as in many other great films, is that it leaves room for interpretation, while also clearly telling a story to the audience. In this second feature film for Aster, we could only wonder whether he’ll again reach one of our “top” lists in the future.

-Blake Pynnonen

#4 Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Tarantino returned to cinemas this year with one of his career highlights. Turning his eye to the changing careers of two Hollywood pals, his latest film was an extended look at the end of the hippie era and the Manson murders. Showing his love for old school spaghetti westerns, American television, and the wild and crazy alcohol fueled party attitude of the '60s, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a fantastical film that steps away from Tarantino's typical narrative. 

Never one to stick to one exact genre or theme for more than one motion picture, gone are his long winded arcs of violence that are replaced by a dialogue between two buddies that see their world changing in front of them. What is considered to be one of his greatest achievements by many, this one shows a director that is also moving with the times.  

-Chris George

#3 and #2 (Tie) Uncut Gems and The Irishman

Uncut Gems:
Uncut Gems is astonishing for many reasons, but the biggest might be in how the Safdies gave us an Adam Sandler movie, but with consequences. Growing up in the 90s, Sandler movies were crucial to my childhood. I loved the wacky, man children he inhabited so well. As an adult, Sandler became something of an annoyance to me, though. While his audience grew up, Sandler kept playing the same, unappealing men who somehow have all the luck in the world despite being slovenly, ill-behaved brutes. Every few years though, he’d turn in a performance that would remind you why this guy, against all odds, became a movie star.

Filmmakers like Paul Thomas Anderson and Noah Baumbach deftly exploited Sandler’s man-child persona, turned it on its head and showed us what they’d be like in the real world. The Safdies took that same principle, cranked all of up into overdrive and in doing so gave Sandler the role of a lifetime. Howard Ratner, the lead character, is every Sandler slob we’ve seen before. He has beautiful women, kids that love him, an incredible house and a ton of friends. But he makes every wrong choice a person could make, acts like a preteen and tries way too hard to be cool. He’s Happy Gilmore. He’s Billy Madison. He’s Longfellow Deeds.

But unlike Sandler’s comedies, this world has stakes. In this world, the awful decisions he makes are the difference between life and death. In giving Sandler stakes, the Safdies remind us why we fell in love with every lovable loser he’s played. We’re not begging him to stop because he’s irritating. We’re begging him to stop because we can’t take the anxiety anymore. And just when we think he’s done, he steps over the line again. The Safdies gave us the quintessential Adam Sandler hero and in doing so rejuvenated a movie star many had long given up on. In anyone else’s hands, Howard Ratner is just another scumbag. In Sandler’s, he’s the hero we can never stop rooting for.

-Brandon Streussnig

The Irishman:
I Heard You Paint Houses (AKA The Irishman) is a crime epic that focuses on the life of a hitman for the Pennsylvania mafia. While it chronicles his life of crime, more importantly it tells a story of death and betrayal in front of perhaps one of the most meta backdrops ever displayed. Martin Scorsese, Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, and Harvey Keitel are five titans of the big screen, all of which are in their twilight years. Every participant and viewer of this film has the understanding that these great talents will never work together again on the same project. The unavoidable avatar of death hangs over both real and the imagined. The irony of these masters of cinematic illusions choosing for their swan song to be not only in the genre that defined them, but also based on a fabricated memoir is both hilarious and heartwarming, despite the darkness that pervades every inch of the film.

Taking Mean Streets, Goodfellas, and Casino and comparing them to different stages of life is perhaps one of the most powerful parts of Scorsese's filmography, however, The Irishman blends all three of these concepts and uses them as paint for the mural of their creator's legacy. Made possible in part by dynamic CGI deaging technology, this presents yet another dilemma within the framework. It would have been easy to cast younger actors in the part, yet the decision was made to use the senior actors. While this has been defended and decried on every corner of the internet, perhaps the reason is simpler and related to the meta aspect outlined above? Perhaps the decision was a means to allow the film's principals a chance to relive their youths? Perhaps it is a statement on the dangerous territory ahead for tentpole films and arthouse films or furthermore what if is a plea for both combatants to find celluloid (digital) harmony? This is a Netflix film, emblematic of the change that is coming to cinemas in the near future, however, if anything, The Irishman shows that cinema can exist on the small screen as much as the big and is a powerful reminder that there is room for every kind of film, both at home and in theater.

-Kyle Jonathan

#1 Parasite

Parasite is a film that folks will talk about for years. The product of South Korean auteur Bong Joon Ho, Parasite contains multitudes. It is well written, funny, terrifying, thrilling, and brilliant. It is truly something else. Parasite is a film about the class divide and the relationships between the haves and the have-nots. All unemployed, Ki-taek and his family take peculiar interest into the wealthy and glamorous Park family and begin to ingratiate and entangle themselves into their lives. The film is the work of a director at the peak of their powers, combining social commentary and smart writing to make one of the most dazzling and entertaining films of this decade.

-Liam O’Connor