Column, Movie Diary

2019 year in review via film

by Dom Cioffi

Here we go again! Another year at the movies has come and gone, leaving us with the inevitable year-end review of the season’s best pictures.

I go to the theater once a week so that gives me the opportunity to see roughly 50 films a year. Obviously, I don’t get the chance to screen every film released, but I try my best to see the most anticipated features.

So, from the knowledge I have, here’s what I thought (in no particular order):

“Parasite:” This little subtitled gem came sneaking out of South Korea during the fall, virtually unknown to most moviegoers. Over time, through word of mouth, the buzz grew, and the world began to notice the genius of “Parasite.” The film examines the interplay between haves and have-nots and how these worlds collide when two families begin living together under odd circumstances.

“Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood:” Quentin Tarantino returned with a roar this past summer with the release of another titillating period piece. This time he put Hollywood under his lens and combined it with the shocking Charles Manson murders, making for an intriguing clash of storylines. Throw in Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt and it’s hard to imagine a better combination when developing a film. Dialogue remains king when Tarantino delivers a film, and this picture is no exception.

“Knives Out:” Sometimes it takes a well-handled treatment of a dusty genre to make you realize that the legitimacy is still there. Such is the case with director Rian Johnson’s thrilling murder mystery, “Knives Out.” Featuring a bevy of stars, “Knives Out” yanks the viewer around from beginning to end as everyone wonders who killed the famous publishing patriarch of the wealthy Thrombey family.

“Jojo Rabbit:” Every once in a while, a film is released that catches you completely off guard. “Jojo Rabbit” was exactly that kind of film. Set in Germany during the demise of the Third Reich, this unique little tale follows a young boy as he struggles with the ideology of his hero while feeling compassion for a Jewish girl being hidden in his home. “Jojo Rabbit” is a slow burn kind of film. By the end, you will be completely transfixed by the creativity of the delivery.

“Midsommar:” I’m including this film in my top ten list because it completely shocked me – I’m talking the mouth-hanging-open, head-turning-away kind of shock. The story follows a group of students who travel to Sweden for a summer solstice celebration. What initially seems like an endearing little getaway, quickly devolves into a hellish nightmare. Normally, I’m not a fan of these kids of films, but this story and delivery were well thought out and beautifully executed.

“They Shall Not Grow Old:” I’m a huge fan of documentary films, which is why I had to include this riveting analysis. The entire movie is made up of archival footage that survived World War I. Restorers altered the film in such a way that brought new life and emotion to the dusty cells and thus an appreciation to the struggle of this painful period in history.

“Joker:” In my mind, no performance in 2019 was as fully realized as Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of Arthur Fleck. I was thrilled that director Todd Phillips handled this storyline like he did: by treating the plot as a descent into mental illness and not another superhero outing. If there’s one performance to appreciate this year, this has it.

“Uncut Gems:” Adam Sandler stars as a New York City jeweler who’s looking to make the score of a lifetime by balancing business, family, and a number of people intent on seeing him fail. Sometimes seeing an actor rise so far above what he’s previously delivered makes us all appreciate what’s possible. Sandler does exactly that in this brilliant tale of winning at all costs.

“The Irishman:” Martin Scorsese is one of the few filmmakers I will watch no matter what he’s involved with. Scorsese could release a film about goats eating plastic cups and I’d be the first in line. Thankfully, “The Irishman” is another poignant mob story, this time revolving around the unions during post World War II. Add into the mix, Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, and Al Pacino and there’s virtually no way you can’t have a winner. “The Irishman” is gritty, biting and full off the beautiful filmmaking that you’ve come to expect from Scorsese.

“Toy Story 4:” You know a film is good when you get to the fourth installment and it’s still one of the best films of the year. This time, the creative brain trusts at Pixar sent Woody off on an adventure to find his long-lost love, Bo Peep. In the process, Woody meets a host of new characters that bring a renewed flare to the aging franchise.  Genius is defined as creating a character out of a fork and then making him memorable. I am consistently amazed at what the artists and writers at Pixar produce, and once again stand in awe of how inspiring their storytelling can be.

Well, there you have it – my top ten for 2019. I would say it was a so-so year for filmmaking. There were some genuinely endearing motion pictures, but nothing that I would call “one for the ages.” At least the Academy Awards will be interesting since there’s no obvious frontrunners in this year’s competition.

Here’s to 2020!

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at moviediary@att.net.

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