Cole Sansom’s Top 10 Films of 2019
2019 delivered a surprising number of great films. I got around to seeing around fifty. Here are the ones I liked the most.
10. The Last Black Man in San Francisco
Joe Talbot and Jimmie Fails’ gorgeous ode to a city they once loved reconfigures the relationship between the camera and the urban environment. The gorgeous cinematography and music push this film into my top 10, and I’m excited to see what Talbot does next.
9. Knives Out
How do you bounce back from making one of the best mega-franchise movies in recent memory? For Rian Johnson, that involves riffing off of the classic whodunnit format. Knives Out assembles an all-star cast and a brilliant script that manage to subvert not only the formula of the Agatha Christie-esque mystery but the politics as well.
9. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Celine Sciamma’s film depicts the process of falling in love. One woman is tasked with secretly painting a wealthy woman; the film mimics their story with the audiences. Looking, looking long and close, we fall in love. As… fell for… so did I fall in love with this movie?
7. Ad Astra
Heart of Darkness but in space? James Gray’s sci-fi drama takes the classic narrative and uses it to explore the iced-off walls of military masculinity. One of the most emotionally complex space dramas in years as well one of the most thrilling, Ad Astra would make it on this list simply for being the only movie I saw this year to feature space pirates. Pirates! On the Moon! What more could you want!
6. The Farewell
“Based on a Lie,” as the film’s tagline reads, Lulu Wang’s story of family dynamics is equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking. Awkwafina carves out her position as a rising star in one of the year’s breakout hits. As with all directors whose films appear on this list, I’m excited about what they make next. It’s astonishing that The Farewell is Wang’s first film, and promises an exciting new career.
Cole Sansom’s Top 10 Films of 2019 [Cont.]
5. The Irishman
Scorsese’s ode to aging and the mob lifestyle feels like a major reflection. The film is deliberate, but never dull. For over two hours we are given one excellent scene after another (not to mention a riveting Al Pacino). But it’s the last hour or so of the film where Scorsese’s true intent is revealed, as The Irishman becomes a stunningly poignant and tear-inducing masterwork.
It makes sense that Bong Joon-Ho’s most successful film in the US is also his most grounded. But it is a mistake to refer to it as a non-genre picture. Rather, Parasite twists to the home-invasion formula to tell a gripping tale about wealth inequality that has no shortage of monsters. It’s scandalous that each member of the something family isn’t a serious Oscar contender, but we can hope that Bong gets some recognition.
3. Marriage Story
Noah Baumbach’s films are somewhat derisively seen as inconsequential loosely-autobiographical tales of well-to-do Jewish Brooklynites whose biggest concerns are that their grad school degree doesn’t give them enough life satisfaction. I don’t think those critics are wrong, except for the expression that Baumbach’s stories aren’t frequently some of the most insightful (and downright funny) American films of the year. Marriage Story is not only Baumbach’s best but his most brutal. Much more than a Twitter meme, the film is emotionally raw and succeeds in its reveling in Driver’s character’s (a Baumbach stand-in) faults.
2. Little Women
On the subject of being married to Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig’s follow-up to 2017’s Lady Bird (one of my top films of the decade) is nothing short of delightful. Breathing new life into the classic novel, Little Women turns the most talented cast of the year (sorry Knives Out) into an effortlessly fun movie that never fails to be equally moving. Saoirse Ronen and Florence Pugh shine as Jo and Amy March, while Gerwig proves that Lady Bird was no fluke.
1. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
It’s impossible to separate the experience of watching a film from the film itself. I’m not sure if this film would have been my number 1 if I hadn’t seen it in a packed theater in Pittsburgh, a mile between both the WQED studios and Mr. Roger’s house, amidst a crowd that had grown up with and admired Mr. Rogers. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood moved me in a way that few films have. Maybe it’s because I grew up on Mr. Rogers, and seeing his philosophy dramatized so excellent is what thrilled me. Maybe it’s my post-Americans desire to see Matthew Rhys on the big screen. Maybe it’s my innate desire to see more films about traumatized men opening up. Within the first few minutes I was in tears, and they barely let up for the following two hours. Heller’s film is nothing short of remarkable; a hauntingly beautiful tale and tribute to a great (but imperfect) man, that illustrates the way that trauma can cause us to shut down, and shows the path to moving on. For me, it was nothing short of the finest film of 2019.
Bonus List: Cole Sansom’s Top 10 Films of 2019 That Made Me Cry the Most
8. The Farewell
7. The Irishman
5. Pain and Glory
4. Blinded by the Light
3. Little Women
2. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
1. Marriage Story
Cole Sansom is a writer, filmmaker, and photographer based out of Philadelphia