Terrence Malick returns to form with A Hidden Life

Last year I saw 97 theatrical releases.

This year I saw only 66. What the hell happened? I don’t know.

Some of what I missed includes The Last Black Man in San Francisco, John Wick 3, 1917, Just Mercy, Dolemite is My Name, and The Two Popes.

But here’s my favorite films of 2019 from what I did see:

10. Avengers: Endgame

I still don’t know how that glove works

Directors: Anthony & Joe Russo

Say what you will but no other film this year felt more like an event than Endgame. I saw it three times, each time wedged between comic-lovers and families alike, all falling off the ends of their seats during the film’s most climactic bits.

The awesomeness of its scope owes more to the fact that it’s an official send off to an era, a decades-length of entertaining Hollywood movies, and a climactic showdown between a bunch of comic book heroes we’ve come to love.

The experience was a bit like the final moments of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows or Return of the King; sometimes it ran too long and, honestly, Infinity War was better!

But Endgame was a hell of a ride and an exciting journey to follow. It’s a blockbuster, and although I have opinions on those world-dominating monstrosities, let me now rest happily knowing movies like Endgame fuel the film industry with life and fun.

09. Little Women

Director: Greta Gerwig

This is the seventh adaptation of the 1868 Louisa May Alcott novel but the only one I’ve seen and will likely ever see. I don’t know much about the novel except that it’s famous and something grandmothers tend to dust off every holiday season for a good re-read.

Greta Gerwig’s version appears to have a fresh take on the story of the March sisters and each of their respective dreams and passions filtered through the ambitious lens of Saoirse Ronan’s Jo March, the elder sister with a drive to be taken seriously as a woman and not a commodity.

She’s supported by a strong cast including Florence Pugh (who, by the way, has the best female performance of the year in Midsommar), Emma Watson, Laura Dern, Chris Cooper, Timothee Chalamat, Elia Scanlen, and Meryl Streep.

Gerwig’s direction is also unmistakably great. She takes important slices of these women’s life and does a tremendous job cutting back and forth between past and present to create a tapestry of their lives. I always love stories about families and how time tries to fracture them; how they each grow, regress, and ultimately come to recognize the significance of the quiet moments around the fire together.

Little Women is a successful sophomore feature for Gerwig and a wonderful extension to her coming-of-age debut, Lady Bird.

08. The Beach Bum

Director: Harmony Korine

I couldn’t imagine anybody hating this film even if they thought it didn’t make sense. Hell, it doesn’t make sense. It’s about a stoner novelist named Moondog played by Matthew McConaughey boozing it out in Florida as he rots away his estate and health with little no consequences, sense of direction, or even purpose.

The film chooses never to show the nasty side to Moondog’s life and only vaguely suggests the repercussions to some of his actions. But he isn’t a lost soul spiraling down the path to indulgence and pleasure; he’s a free soul openly enjoying indulgence and pleasure, sucking the nectar of life and breezing past his problems with a care-free disposition.

I think The Beach Bum is about an attitude to life and secretly masks Korine’s philosophy for approaching it: have fun, create, make friends and do whatever you can to make living less miserable.

We need more films like The Beach Bum because it foregoes all the crap they tell you about formulas ruining movies. It’s just a damned good time, and the only legitimate comedy I saw this year.

07. Ford v Ferrari

Apparenly Ford V Ferrari is extremely inncaruate. Who knew?

Director: James Mangold

This film feels like a classic Hollywood movie from the golden age; great stars, a gripping story, and thrilling actions scenes. There’s something for everyone.

I liked it best because it tries to explore why men do crazy things and examines the working American man in an old time that’s too often criticized by today’s standards.

Christian Bale gets to show off how skinny he is after losing all his fat from Vice, and Matt Damon just enjoys being there.

Click below for my full review:

https://medium.com/@matthewpotwardowski/ford-v-ferrari-25d46c69a593?source=friends_link&sk=9b8b5e6917dedb374d454f6d125c6c1e

06. The Farewell

Director: Lulu Wang

Lulu Wang’s personal film depicts Chinese-American writer, Billi (played by Awkwafina) struggling to decide whether she should inform her family of her grandmother’s (Nai Nai’s) terminal illness because they consider the delivery of the news to be bad luck for their namesake.

Along the way Billi experiences the personal and familial disconnection between her culture and America, and the potential problems tied to making a decision as a daughter, granddaughter, U.S. and Chinese citizen.

Wang’s film is best when it shows the family interact with one another. She perfectly balances the sharp double-edged sword of humor and heartbreak unique to certain families.

We get close to Nai Nai and her extended family and come to love her little tics that make it understandable why breaking deathly news to such a lively woman would be devastating. It’s also supremely well acted and well written.

05. Jojo Rabbit

Director: Taika Waititi

I know everybody’s tired of seeing Nazis onscreen but who can deny Taika Waititi’s depiction of them?

This to me was the most beautiful film of the year, you can read me gush about it here:

https://medium.com/@matthewpotwardowski/three-cheers-for-jojo-rabbit-8a023e4b523b?source=friends_link&sk=14a2d558c66422bba32ea0c194010288

04. The Lighthouse

Director: Robert Eggers

The more I let this one stew, the more I loved it. It’s almost a comedy more than a horror film and is more entertainment than it is art movie.

I love the look and feel of it. Thick, gothic set pieces and globs of fog like the kind in a Universal Monsters movie. I laugh out loud at Willem Dafoe’s cranky Thomas Wake, shouting to the high heavens in an over-the-top monologue cursing his young companion, Winslow played by Robert Pattinson.

“Why’d ya spill yer beans…” a classic line that keeps roving over in my head long after the credits are over. The Lighthouse is filled with so many decadent moments and fun bits. It’s a truly original tale of, as Robert Eggers puts it, “two men and a phallus.”

Full review:

https://medium.com/@matthewpotwardowski/the-lighthouse-5418751a86e7?source=friends_link&sk=c7668f6975ee24e851bfae93a7b07f39

03. Uncut Gems

Directors: Josh & Benny Safdie

There’s just something so gripping about watching time destroy a man as he struts about scrambling to double his fortune and make his way, triple-crossing and making friends in the process.

Adam Sandler plays Howard Ratner, a jewelry store owner in New York’s Diamond District dodging loan sharks, celebrities, and even his own family. It’s my favorite thing to see a character want something so badly but sweat and slip to get it, almost always failing, and the Safdie brothers’ new thriller cuts to the heart of anxiety and bad luck.

It’s a great film echoing the noirsh grit of Jules Dassin’s Night and the City or Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon. Almost everything feels high-stakes, brutal, and unforgiving.

Sandler deserves an Oscar nomination because he carries the entire film through Ratner’s despicable acts of dishonesty and attempts at finding peace. Uncut Gems is the best crime film of the year, something not to be missed.

02. Marriage Story

Director: Noah Baumbach

I haven’t seen a better film about divorce since A Separation. I loved this film probably more than any other this year, and I gab about it a bunch here:

https://medium.com/@matthewpotwardowski/marriage-story-the-persistence-of-love-dc5c20757e2?source=friends_link&sk=7230e636a43b99f9c71ecb3cfaaa22a7

01. Parasite

Director: Bong Joon-ho

Without a doubt the scariest, funniest, strangest, most touching and most downright unusual social/political family drama-thriller to come out this year. Basically, the most creative film of 2019.

It’s about a family living in the slums of South Korea that basically latches onto another, richer family for support. Along the way, reversals and mishaps occur as strange discoveries keep unearthing about this family, these people, and the condition each is in.

Parasite says so much about how we view ourselves, our families, our jobs, and everyone in relation to our society. It examines the minute and the magnificent of working a job, feeling privileged, and feeling spoiled.

There’s a lot more to it than this and I know that I’m butchering it with my generalizations. On even the most basic level, the movie is significantly entertaining and has that rare quality of being crowd-pleasing but also a masterful work of art.

That does it.

What are the ten best films you saw in 2019?

Happy New Year, and see you in 2020!

I write about movies, screenwriting, and filmmaking experiences.

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