10. Jojo Rabbit [Fox Searchlight; 2019]
By Andrew Breazeale, Staff Writer
Taika Waititi’s follow-up film to his outing with Marvel is a delightfully sweet and hilarious movie about young Nazis. Yes, you read that right. Waititi’s dark satire follows a young Nazi youth named Jojo whose closest friend is an imaginary Adolf Hitler. While Jojo Rabbit may seem to reach in the wrong direction, Waititi pulls it off with a powerful story on self-discovery and standing up for what you believe. With incredible performances from Waititi and Roman Griffin Davis, this movie shines above many others in 2019 as a meaningful and necessary look into the problems in today’s America. This satirical, bleak and dark-as-hell comedy—controversial as it may be—is a step in the right direction for social commentary in film and is sure to turn some heads this awards season. Also, it’s pretty damn funny.
9. Avengers: Endgame [Marvel Studios; 2019]
By Maria Lubanovic, Copy Editor
Many people were worried about the conclusion of this multibillion-dollar franchise, with some of the most iconic superheroes leaving after this installment. This calls for a crossover so incredible that you almost forget who dies. Thanos, the bearer of all Infinity Stones, has destroyed half of the population, and the Avengers fight him to save the world five years later and bring everyone back. The standard six, Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye and Captain America are joined by the heroes of the Marvel universe like Black Panther and Captain Marvel to end Thanos once and for all by traveling back in time to destroy them. Somehow, this time travel choice isn’t extremely bad, which is exciting for fans of sci-fi and superheroes alike. On top of this, Endgame’s strengths come in the attention to character storylines and the relationships between the Avengers. It reveals an attention to detail that could have been easily been missed in the genre.
8. Booksmart [Annapurna; 2019]
By Trinity Bryant, Contributor
Booksmart centers on the latest class to graduate high school. Bringing back a decade from the beginning of the 2000s, it only seems right to integrate diverse characters with great talent. The main characters Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) have a friendship similar to those in The Hangover, but better because they are girls. That raunchy, humorous female role has never been perfectly executed and well-renowned like this one. Amy introduces a new take on these explicit comedies by adding a member of the pride community to the narrative. The narrative is well-written by Olivia Wilde, as she takes on director roles that express a recreation of Dever, Feldstein and her friendships within the story. This is a new take on female empowerment in comedy and storytelling, with such diverse actors and actresses who are perfectly developed by all the secondary characters in Amy and Molly’s graduating class.
7. Joker, [Warner Brothers; 2019]
By Trinity Bryant, Contributor
The refreshing take on the beloved DC Comic series is thoughtfully executed with the film’s villain, the Joker. Based on the comic book “Batman: The Killing Joke” and loosely tied to Batman: Under the Red Hood, Joker reveals the origins and lifeline of an infamous villain. The refreshing narrative and employment of the film put a twist on superhero movies, edging rather closely to the fantasy-driven realism of a fictional character.
The main character Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is a failing comedian who is bullied, jumped and seen as a joke to others as he lives his life with an uncontrollable laughing condition. The movie does not fail to give him fleeting embarrassment, utter sadness and awkwardness from his mental condition. Arthur’s character is executed in bouts of mental breakdowns that leave himself in denial and every other character in shock. Phoenix’s passion and dedication to embody this villain is phenomenal, as evident in the dedication of his perfected laugh, skin-and-bones body, dance of denial and his perfect joke of the century.
6. The Farewell [Ray Productions; 2019]
By Abby Jeffers, News Editor
The Farewell tells a simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking story of a Chinese family that chooses not to tell their dying grandmother, Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao), that she’s dying of terminal lung cancer—instead, opting to gather in China under the premise of an impromptu wedding. The dialogue is primarily in Chinese, and the narratives swing back and forth between light, comedic elements and intensely painful ones. Although this pacing feels natural, as Billi (Awkwafina), one of Nai Nai’s grandchildren, returns to China to join her family. Billi’s own strife as she struggles not to tell her grandmother the truth serves to bring the audience closer to Nai Nai, breeding empathy and an understanding of the fear and hurt involved with losing a family member. The Farewell is based on a true story from director Lulu Wang, and its slow-burn progression builds tension and pain throughout, moving audiences to laugh, cry and empathize with Billi and the rest of Nai Nai’s family.
5. Us [Universal; 2019]
By Jessica Jones, Copy Editor
Jordan Peele, director of 2017’s beloved Get Out, gifted us with another mind-warping thriller this year. In Us, a family of four goes on a vacation that soon turns out to be anything but relaxing. Everything about this film is damn-near perfect: the score, cinematography and especially the acting. The exhilarating journey this film takes you on is such a pleasure because we so rarely get horror movies that don’t reveal themselves too soon. The pacing of this film is just right, coupled with everything else Peele is doing correctly. If there’s one guy who knows how to make an exciting thriller, it’s him.
4. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood [Columbia; 2019]
By Jackson Stein, Staff Writer
Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film is one only he could have constructed. For years, he’s been one of Hollywood’s most disruptive and game-changing filmmakers, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is further proof that he is one of cinema’s most creative minds. The film is a unique addition to his near-perfect filmography, and it’s his first work to feel like the product of a mature director. That being said, the film’s whimsical performances and absurdly detailed setting suck the viewer into its effortlessly developed fantasy. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt prove to be such perfect choices for their respective characters that one can’t really imagine anyone else in their roles.
DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton perfectly captures the bitter mix of fading optimism and longing to seize new experiences before it’s too late. On the other hand, Pitt’s Cliff Booth carries an infectious sense of coolness, and it’s easily one of his most charismatic performances yet. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is yet another layered and ambitious product of a filmmaker confident and in control of his vision, and it will leave you wishing there were more artists like Tarantino.
3. The Lighthouse [A24; 2019]
By Jonah Krueger, Staff Writer
Following his strong debut, director Robert Eggers has returned to offer a truly unique, unforgettable experience with his second feature film, The Lighthouse. As anyone who has seen it can tell you, any expectations you have for this film are misguided. For one, the narrative showcases a truly horrifying mental breakdown through the lens of a 1:1.9 aspect ratio, black-and-white film and a healthy dose of magical realism—and also features almost as many fart jokes as the latest Kevin James comedy. All of this is captured by screensaver-worthy camera shots, an expertly utilized score and career-defining performances from Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. It is something else.
Being an Eggers film, it’s challenging and difficult to unpack, yet somehow The Lighthouse has been embraced by critics and general audiences alike. I’d venture a guess that it has been able to do so because it is just that good. It’s the definition of the “you have to see it for yourself” movie, and once you do, you’ll be racing back to see it again.
2. Midsommar [A24; 2019]
By Lane Moore, Reviews Editor
If it weren’t for its beautiful, psychedelic cinematography, the relentless tension and perfectly timed gore, Midsommar would torment the minds of its viewers without end. Watching the group of core characters descend into their gruesome, although apparent, fates could not be more entertaining, as a combination of each character’s own self-interest, pride, ignorance and sometimes affection leads to a dreadful fate for each of them—all for the sake of cultural relativism. Stupid Americans!
Midsommar feels more like a slow-burning psychological thriller more than it does a true horror film, as fear is never the primary emotion felt while watching the film. Instead, discomfort defines the experience, as even the tiniest of quarrels holds the potential to lead to a gruesome visual or painstakingly stressful conflict. Undoubtedly, director Ari Aster’s vision of Sweden’s remote and gorgeous landscapes hides one of the most sinister, thrilling stories of the year.
1. Parasite [CJ Entertainment; 2019]
By Emma Anderson & Sophie Story, Contributors
The latest movie from South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho is equally if not more chilling and poignant than his previous work. Parasite follows two families from drastically different financial backgrounds—the Parks who are extremely wealthy, living in an exorbitantly large home, and the Kim family who struggles to make ends meet, living in a packed urban community in an underground home. Their lives suddenly become intertwined when the Kims’ son gets hired as an English tutor by the Park family under false pretenses. Thus opening a gaping door for the rest of the Kim family, they infiltrate the home and the lives of the Parks.
The film is a psychological thriller that explores class tensions and socioeconomic inequality through a cutting story that keeps the viewer guessing at every turn, only to be left with a creeping sense of dread and tensions that reach a boiling point. The camera work keeps the viewer on edge, building intense fear and foreboding, which makes the piece creative and relevant but even disturbing at times. Parasite won’t soon be forgotten by anyone who dares to watch it.
Originally published on ACRN.com on February 5, 2020.