Horror, Hollywood, and Her Smell Make the Cut.
Disclaimer off the bat: I have not seen 1917 yet. Every time I make one of these lists, there is always a big movie I haven’t seen. This year, it is 1917. So when you don’t see it on my list, it is not a commentary on that film.
Honorable mentions: The Nightingale; Last Black Man in San Francisco; The Two Popes; El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie; Little Woods; Honey Boy; The Peanut Butter Falcon; The Mustang
10. Her Smell
Elizabeth Moss is on fire as a Courtney Love type grunge musician who goes from rock bottom to rehab to comeback. With a three act structure that plays out in three extended scenes, there is a confidence to the filmmaking that is matched by her amazing performance.
9. One Cut of the Dead
If you think One Cut of the Dead is going to be a goofy and ridiculous zombie movie just having fun, be prepared to either be incredibly surprised or disappointed, depending on how much you want that. It plays out more like a commentary on filmmaking, perception and media manipulation. As soon as it was over, I immediately wanted to start it over and watch it again, but this time fully knowing what was happening. I loved it.
8. The Lighthouse
For such a small story, two men in a lighthouse slowly losing it, the movie is huge in its scope of influences. It’s basically a love letter to the history of film, picking from different pieces.
The gorgeous black and white reminds me of a 1950s Swedish landscape film, like Seventh Seal. But the sound design and effects feel like something out of a Marvel movie. It evokes Hitchcock, most notably The Birds, but also a closed-paranoid space film like Hitchcock’s Lifeboat. Robert Pattinson is dynamic and gives a performance that’s intensely comedic with mannerisms and a look that reminded me of Buster Keaton.But most of all it reminded me of Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, but instead of a woman going insane in an apartment, it’s two men in a Lighthouse. And of course it has a style like the director’s first movie, The Witch.
7. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Not only a movie about forbidden love and desire, but also a story about art, the artist/subject relationship, the vulnerability you feel when you are the subject, the trust that is needed for that relationship, and in this magical case, the love that burns from the relationship. And what a beautiful final shot.
A familiar horror story with a modern day twist. A stranger in a strange land, slowing enveloping into the dangerous surroundings, but this time, the toxicity she brings with her are the true monsters. Ultimately, Midsommar is a tale of terror, wrapped in hope, though you may have to squint a little to find it.
A comedic Hitchcockian romp about the horrors of capitalism and the pains that we will go to and who we will lie to, hurt and protect to make it up a rung of the economic ladder is one of the funniest movies of the year. That’s about the best I can do to describe it. Just listen to me (and everyone) and see this movie.
4. Uncut Gems
Adam Sandler is on fire in this high-intensity, anxiety-inducing Safdie Brother follow-up to their last high-intensity, anxiety-inducing movie.
Uncut Gems is a two-hour complete assault on your senses. It’s like being on a roller coaster ride but the roller coaster is on fire and half the tracks have collapsed. It’s like an emotional attack of art.
Adam Sandler gives the performance of his lifetime. He is absolutely brilliant and commands the screen. The supporting cast from Lakeith Stanfield to Kevin Garnett to Eric Bogosian all bring their A games.
3. Marriage Story
Sometimes I watch a movie and I say I cried. But I don’t know if it counts. I’ll like tear up and five seconds later it’s gone and it makes me get into a whole existential examination about what crying really is. But that doesn’t apply to Marriage Story. In this movie, I cried. Perfectly directed, perfectly acted. The kind of movie every aspiring filmmaker should watch.
2. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
This movie is a mesmerizing love letter to Hollywood with a focus on a time when the masculine past was meeting a new wave. Where American westerns were meeting spaghetti westerns and masculinity was meeting Polanski artisty. It reminded me of The Artist (but much better) by capturing a time in Hollywood where you either adapt or die.
It’s also about Tarantino’s love of cinema and the town. With all due respect to people into true crime stuff, I’ve never understood it and I love film, especially horror, but do not like learning about people actually being killed. Tarantino seems to be on board. He’s not fascinated with Charles Manson and his ranch of lunatics. They’re incompetent and punching bags in this movie. Tarantino loves Sharon Tate and is furious about what happened to her. He also harmoniously believes the new and the past could coexist peacefully if it wasn’t for outside forces of hatred interfering.
The movie is paced so confidently. Hardly any score. Just drawn out, quiet scenes that serve for a mixtape of great music in the background. Everyone knows what happened to Tate, but they also know Tarantino is a historical revisionist, yet this movie feels more mature, so as the film proceeds to the end, you have no idea what direction it’s going in.
And the ending is something else. This is one of DiCaprio’s best performance, yet somehow Brad Pitt still steals the movie.
Us is outstanding. It has such a haunting a confident pacing to it. It captures both the expansive fears of what is happening all around the world it’s in without losing the intimacy of the main family. There are some twists and turns to it, and some you may see coming, but it doesn’t matter. If you say guessing a twist ruined it, you missed the point of the movie. Some may be disappointed that it doesn’t have a grounded message like Get Out, and instead trades in text for subtext in its horror absurdity, but since I love the insanity of horror, I went with it.
This a two-hour package of horror references that span the history of the genre in a beautifully pertinent eat-the-rich message that we all need right now.
The movie felt 50% Funny Games, 10% zombie apocalypse, 10% Jacob’s Ladder, 10% The Shining, 10% People Under the Stairs, 5% Suspiria, and 5% Halloween.