First published on February 9, 2020.
1. The Farewell
Since seeing The Farewell at Sundance a year ago, it has stuck with me. The film is cleverly crafted, and I have revisited it often since its festival premiere and throughout its theatrical run. It’s an incredibly personal story with great love and insight.
As sweet, and sad, as this movie is, it will still surprise you and it will tug at your emotions, in every direction. You will laugh and chuckle, tear up and cry. You will think about your own grandparents and extended family, and the memories and experiences you shared with them.
Compelling in its story of class struggle and the measures one family will go to in trying to better their lives, Parasite has rightly earned its place as an award season contender (and winner). The fact that it is one of the leading Best Picture nominees for the Academy Awards is no accident. Bong Joon-Ho’s directing is a masterclass, and the performance from Song Kang-ho steals the entire film.
Absolutely thrilling, inspiring, and sensational. Rocketman serves as Taron Egerton’s emergence on the international stage, and it proves, beyond any doubt, his skills as an actor. Longtime fans of Egerton will remember when he sang Elton John songs in the animated film Sing and when he saved Elton from captivity in The Kingsman: The Golden Circle. So it was only natural that he, then, become Elton John. Rocketman is just as good after the second, third, and fourth viewing.
Emotional, powerful, and inspiring. How else can you describe this movie and the performances from George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman? As Salt Lake Film Review contributor Matt Bullions stated in his review, “1917 is, in every possible way, one of the finest films of the year. It’s a stunning technical achievement and haunting emotional journey that is thrillingly intense from beginning to end.”
5. Marriage Story
This story and the performances from Adam Driver and Scarlett Johannson are going to be studied by film and acting students years from now. What Driver and Johannson bring to the table are raw, uncomfortable feelings as their characters navigate a bitter and painful divorce. The sadness, hopelessness, and profound sense of loss cannot be missed. It is some of the best work of their careers, so far.
6. Little Women
Some critics of this adaptation have commented that it’s unlike the other Little Women films or that not everything that happens with this movie is exactly how the novel does it. That, in my opinion, is part of the beauty of Gerwig’s version. It isn’t more of the same, and it’s adapted for the modern-day, because the novel was, and still is, an incredibly modern and progressive piece of writing. The values of the book are on full display in this film adaptation, and the young cast is pivotal in ensuring this works.
Florence Pugh’s performance is expressive and chilling. She effectively transforms herself from a character who is dependent and broken to somebody who is something else entirely.
Midsommar, as it stands, is an excellent follow-up to Hereditary, and Ari Aster has made it a cleaner, more technical, and more impressive production. Unlike Hereditary, there aren’t really any loose ends, and there’s a sense of finality in the end, even if it’s bewildering.
8. The Art of Self-Defense
Ingeniously dark and incredibly self-aware of its own absurdity, The Art of Self-Defense is, admittedly, not for everybody. Jesse Eisenberg’s straight man delivery makes the film absolutely hilarious as events unfold around him, and his character is forced to grapple with what’s happened to him. Nuanced moments and subtle comments make this story fun to watch more than once because there’s likely something you missed the first time.
9. The White Crow
Sony Pictures Classics has a special place in my heart. Not every film they push out is a winner, and some are outright mediocre or underwhelming. But, here and there, some films stand out and stay with me. The White Crow did exactly that throughout the year. Directed by Ralph Fiennes and introducing the first-time actor, professional ballet dancer Oleg Ivenko, this story is about Rudolf Nureyev’s exposure to the west and eventual defection from the Soviet Union in 1961. Ivenko’s performance is intimate, and it is all the more impressive considering he had to learn English for the role. Even with an understanding of what happens in the end, as the film is based on actual events, suspense and excitement are still built up due to not only Ivenko’s work but Fiennes’ direction and creation of the movie.
10. Ford v. Ferrari
Fun and fast. Ford v. Ferrari is an exhilarating time at the theater and keeps you on the edge of your seat. The performances from Matt Damon and Christian Bale are commendable, but Noah Jupe really deserves recognition for his work. Tracy Letts, who was also in Little Women, makes his mark with this film and is key to one of the funniest moments involving him and Damon. The sound editing and mixing are superb and prove themselves to be Oscar-worthy.