It was a year of cinema seemingly created just for me.
My home state hero Bruce Springsteen showed up twice, in his autobiographical concert film Western Stars and the so-saccharine-it-gave-me-adult-onset-diabetes Blinded By the Light.
My literary idol Stephen Sondheim showed up three times. Daniel Craig sang “Losing My Mind” from Follies in Knives Out, Joaquin Phoenix sang “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music in Joker and Adam Driver delivered one of the great scenes, a fully-formed “Being Alive” from Company, with the dialogue interludes, in Marriage Story. (The latter was juxtaposed with Scarlett Johansson, Merritt Wever and Julie Hagerty’s rousing “You Can Drive a Person Crazy” from that same Sondheim show.)
Four of my favorite filmmakers – Errol Morris, Alex Gibney, Pedro Almodovar and Mike Leigh – released new works. (The special treat of the year was getting to see both Morris and Gibney at Film Forum Q&A sessions in NYC.) Only Gibney’s Citizen K failed to crack the list below.
Oh, and they made a documentary about Fiddler on the Roof – my choice for the greatest piece of American dramatic literature. (And it was just lovely. But I ruled it out of any year-end list due to its unfair advantage. It’s probably the 2019 film I’ll watch the most in my lifetime.)
What follows is my year-end piece in two parts. First, how the acting Oscar nominations would have looked if I did the nominating. Second, my ten best films of the year.
You will find no mention of Joker anywhere because Joker is the winner of the Bohemian Rhapsody Award, given to the film that will make me slightly ill with ever Oscar victory. Joker is trash cinema. Obvious. Easy. Freshman year of film school derivative. “Teacher, look! I saw King of Comedy for the first time! And I made my own! But it’s about an actual clown and DeNiro changed parts!”
[Note: There were three films I did not manage to get to that could have been relevant here. So my apologies to Les Miserables, Portrait of a Lady on Fire and Varda by Agnes. It wasn’t for lack of trying, either. I saw The Dead Don’t Die. I sat through The Souvenir. I did Atlantics and Monos – two terrific films – on one Sunday afternoon. Then I went drinking.]
- Adam Driver, Marriage Story
- Paul Walter Hauser, Richard Jewell
- Antonio Banderas, Pain & Glory
- Mark Ruffalo, Dark Waters
- George MacKay, 1917
- Lupita Nyong’o, Us
- Renee Zellwegger, Judy
- Awkwafina, The Farewell
- Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story
- Alfre Woodard, Clemency
Best Supporting Actor
- Joe Pesci, The Irishman
- Tracy Letts, Ford vs. Ferrari
- Jonathan Majors, The Last Black Man in San Francisco
- James Saito, Always Be My Maybe
- Sam Rockwell, Richard Jewell
Best Supporting Actress
- Scarlett Johansson, JoJo Rabbit
- Billie Lourd, Booksmart
- Idina Menzel, Uncut Gems
- Jennifer Lopez, Hustlers
- Cho Yeo-jeong, Parasite
#10. Pain & Glory / Peterloo (tie)
Two masters of cinema, Almodovar and Leigh. Two films that perfectly slide into their brilliant canons.
Peterloo is unlike anything Leigh has made before. A filmmaker who has specialized in the small moments, the quiet conversations, has made something decidedly epic, about big speeches and big ideas. And he’s managed to do so without losing the intimacy that has come to define his work. (Many folks share a certain amount of my film taste. But the inner circle all love Leigh’s Topsy-Turvy.)
Pain & Glory is all intimacy. And memory. And color. And beauty. This is Almodovar at his most autobiographical and Antonio Banderas’ performance as Almodovar (with a fake name) is the best work done on screen this year.