Trace Sauveur’s Top 10 Films of 2019
The current state of the film industry perhaps isn’t the most ideal, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t good movies being made. In fact, in my personal opinion, 2019 was one of the strongest years for film of the decade, with career-defining works from old masters and exciting projects from new-school voices alike. But if there are a couple recurring trends within my favorites of the past year, it’s the prominence of socio-political critique in the middle of our bout with late capitalism, finding love in the things and people around you even in dire situations, and the death-march of time as we’re forced to acknowledge our mortality and the fact that everything comes to an end. There have been many, many great films released this year, but these are my favorites.
10. High Life
Claire Denis’ provocative, sometimes violent, often downright abstract space drama is as ethereal and frightening as it is filled with pathos for the human condition. A view of humanity barreling through oblivion, coming face to face with the void, and finding the will to confront certain doom by taking the hand of someone you love and going in together when there’s nothing else left. Emotionally fulfilling nihilism.
9. The Lighthouse
Robert Pattison on this list back-to-back, my man has had another great year of picking wondrously adventurous projects. The beauty of Robert Eggers’ newest film is how it takes its wonderfully manic premise and feverishly runs with it to its striking full realization. Pattinson and Willem Dafoe take us down a rabbit hole of lunacy as they commit to giving a couple of nuts performances, all captured in stunning black-and-white photography. It feels like an old horror story you heard before bed as a child, relayed in a wondrously hypnotic fashion.
8. Ad Astra
Sad Brad Pitt in space is a top-tier genre for me. The abrupt shifting of genres may be off-putting for some (just watch as Pitt goes from fighting a space monkey to staring into the void trying to work through his emotional trauma), but it’s all so emotionally poignant and with a beautiful intrepid spirit, as Roy finds hope and closure at the edge of an unforgiving solar system. We all cope somehow.
7. Under The Silver Lake
One of the several movies that A24 has thrown under the bus recently. A moronic conspiracy quest situated within a dark fantasy vision of LA headed by a faux-nice-guy dirtbag loser that objectifies every woman he comes across and literally beats the hell out of some kids at one point. The actual plot is totally arcane and ridiculous but that’s the point: it’s all intentional nonsense as the most preposterous straws are reached for by Sam while he stumbles around avoiding any actual adult responsibility. The film recognizes a genuine human desire to solve the big mystery but what actual mystery is there? It’s all a farce.
6. Marriage Story
Noah Baumbach has come through with maybe his most humane and touching movie he’s ever done, which is ironic for a film that explores the emotional dynamics of a divorce. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson carry this achingly emotional film that depicts an all-too-real scenario but punctuates the dread with so many moments of small ironies, humor, and grace. We ultimately conclude on a moment of comfort at the beginning of the end of the turmoil, where the smallest of gestures indicates a chance to move forward, even if it’s not with each other.
Trace Sauveur’s Top 10 Films of 2019 [Cont.]
Bong Joon-ho’s hilarious, tense, deeply sad, meticulously assembled investigation of wealth disparity/the wide partition between classes, how your place in the system directly defines your behavior, and how easy it is to still be willing to give in to the bright promises of the capitalist death machine. Weaves between genres with such glee from someone with a masterful grip on his craft, with every new revelation taking the film in surprising, unpredictable directions.
4. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Perhaps the most viscerally emotional film I’ve experienced this year. Céline Sciamma has crafted a timeless forbidden romance story for the ages, one that morphs romance into the stuff of legend, all set on the picturesque backdrops of a French island basked in sunlight. The film treats its two leads with such a sensitive emotional touch and lets the viewer live with them in quiet scenes of dialogue — there is no score, the film instead opting to let the silence do the work. When sequences of diegetic music do come up, it’s used as a means of transcendent experience, taking the film to new emotional highs that other films could only wish to reach.
3. Uncut Gems
The Safdie Brothers are the filmmakers of their generation. Though their previous projects have seen them crafting their now-signature style of anxiety-riddled escapades through New York, Uncut Gems sees them completely mastering a craft. Adam Sandler turns in one of his finest performances as a jeweler with a gambling addiction who’s loaning of a prized Ethiopian opal to basketball-star Kevin Garnett (who should be nominated for Best Supporting Actor) leads to one setback after another. Watching Sandler barrel through the city ducking and dodging his way out of all the trouble he causes himself while trying to make his big score is exhilarating and exhausting, and filmed with such a specific nerve-shattering rhythm that it’s impossible not to fall under its spell. This is a beautifully sleazy gem of a film with a main character who’s often as funny as he is pathetic.
2. The Irishman
A 210-minute mournful mega opus that reckons with a past of violence and mistakes while confronting the lingering specter of death that’s waiting at the end of the road, and solemnly eulogizes Scorsese’s own oeuvre of gangster cinema. 3 and a half hours and not a single moment that I could think to cut out, with De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci all delivering some of the best, most nuanced work of their careers, basically capping off a legacy of mob cinema. Just an astounding late-career effort from a director who still clearly has so much left to give us.
1. Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood
Quentin Tarantino’s hang-out movie; not so much concerned with plot as it is a certain time, a certain place, a certain culture, all bygone. A closing-out of the golden age of Hollywood in a synthesis of reality and fantasy, what was and what could have been. Probably the most tender Tarantino has ever let himself be on celluloid, eulogizing the films and serials of old and giving the shining, dreamlike optimism for the industry present in Sharon Tate a chance to move forward. Sneakily ends up being one of the most respectable efforts from a filmmaker who still indulges in his penchant for exploitation and insane bloodshed for a few moments but allows it to give way to deeply felt remembrance, wistfulness, and nostalgia; a reflection on time passed and a desire to give it a happy ending.
Trace Sauveur has been a regular critic at Ready Steady Cut since March 2019.