2019 at the movies signaled several big finales: The end of the current iteration of the “Avengers” franchise and the bookend to the recent “Star Wars” trilogy.
Along with Disney making billions of dollars on sequels and remakes, there were also a ton of movies, both big and small from around the world, that impressed audiences.
Here’s what makes St. Joe Live’s Top 10 of 2019:
10. “1917” — A few times a decade there’s a movie that needs to be experienced on the big screen. This “one-shot” World War I movie that follows two young British soldiers who need to take a cease-fire message across multiple battlefields is one of those. What it lacks in depth, it makes up for in technical wizardry. Cinematographer Roger Deakins’s camerawork is stunning. Director Sam Mendes’ talent for capturing white-knuckle action is on full display. But its the two leads, newcomers Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay, that sell the horror and anxiety of their almost-impossible mission.
9. “Booksmart” — Feeling like a “Superbad” for the 2010s, “Booksmart” was like its wild, nerdy sister (Coincidentally, co-star Beanie Feldstein is Jonah Hill’s sister.). The comedic chemistry between Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever heighten this crude high school romp from being another entry into the genre to a hilarious, heartfelt adventure. The debut film from director Olivia Wilde, it stumbles in a few places, but its comedic peaks, like an Uber drive with a character played by Jason Sudeikis, were some of the funniest moments of the year.
8. “The Irishman” — Like a reunion tour that actually delivers, what could be Martin Scorsese’s final big mob picture with Robert De Niro and first-time collaborator Al Pacino felt like a fitting spin on the genre he reinvigorated and reinvented during the past four decades. Feeling more like a morose goodbye than a celebration of mafia life and all that comes with it, Scorsese gives the genre a fresh twist as we see Frank Sheeran (De Niro) describe his rise in the ranks, while the audience sees the other side, the many deaths of people around him and the expense it took on his family and soul. Scorsese remains in top form, and the cast, from small performances like Ray Romano to menacing starring roles like Joe Pesci, is top tier.
7. “Dolemite is My Name” — It’s rare for the star of a movie to own the screen from the first frame, but Eddie Murphy does it as failed-musician-turned-comedian Rudy Ray Moore. Working off an hilarious script by biopic masters Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander, they bring their “Ed Wood” energy to the making of one of the strangest, boldest independent blaxploitation films, “Dolemite.” Crude, profane, energetic and charming — they’re all words that could describe Murphy and the cast (which includes impressive turns from Wesley Snipes, Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Keegan-Michael Key) and this film. If there’s justice in the world, Murphy would win an Oscar for this. But at the very least, we know he hasn’t lost a step.
6. “Marriage Story” — Trying to capture the process of divorce without tipping your hand to one side has to be incredibly difficult. But writer-director Noah Baumbach mostly pulls it off with the help of two incredible performances from his leads Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson in this funny, heartbreaking depiction of his own divorce. We see why this couple loved each other, how it fell apart and the messy process that happens when it’s time to split. But unlike similar indies about breaking up that are depressing beyond words, there’s a vibrance and energy to this, with help from an impressive supporting cast that includes Laura Dern, Ray Liotta and Alan Alda that carries the audience through the sadness.
5. “The Lighthouse” — “The VVitch” writer-director Robert Eggers does so much with small concepts. In that debut film, a family was haunted by a demon when it was sent out into the woods. In this, it’s the madness two men experience when they’re stuck in a lighthouse together for longer than they expected. Shot in black and white in 1.19:1 aspect ratio, to mimic 19th century photography, “The Lighthouse’s” cinematography is grimy and withholding, much like its main character, Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) is to his prudish new lighthouse mate, Ephraim Winslow. The movie is a graphic, gripping descent into madness that’s propelled by its two leads’ commitment to the insanity.
4. “Knives Out” — Is there career in film after a “Star Wars” movie? If you ask George Lucas or “Rogue One’s” Gareth Edwards, you wouldn’t see a great track record for it. Jumping from the big-budget epic “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” to a smaller-scale murder mystery, writer-director Rian Johnson proved that maybe there is hope for directors wanting to make both blockbusters and genre films. Utilizing an incredible ensemble, led by Daniel Craig and Ana de Armas, “Knives Out” gave us one of the funniest, loopiest whodunits since 1985’s “Clue.” While the mystery isn’t exactly shocking, the journey along the way is so much fun, it doesn’t matter. It was one of the most enjoyable times at the movies this year.
3. “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” — This French film isn’t about the quick burn of an affair, it’s all about the simmer. Centered around a painter, Marianne (Noémie Merlant), who is sent to a remote island to paint the wedding portrait of Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), a woman being unwillingly sent off to marry a Milanese nobleman, we watch as their relationship turns from cold isolation to attraction and the painting shifts from standoffishness to happiness. Relying heavily on beautiful long takes and silence, it’s a movie that rewards the viewer’s patience with humor, affection and, ultimately, heartbreak. Its ending is one of the most effective of the year.
2. “Little Women” — Writer-director Greta Gerwig and an incredible ensemble that includes Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh brought new life to story that’s been told many times before. Messing with the structure, as it jumps between the nervous joys of the past, which are shot in shining orange and gold hues, to the depressing present, filmed in cold grays and blues, we see how one side informs the other and gives the film an extra emotional wallop. Contrasting scenes of Jo (Ronan) waking up to find her ill sister, Beth (Eliza Scanlen) are unforgettable, with one capturing the nervous energy of her walk downstairs, while the other is the harsh walk to reality. Exquisitely shot and edited, this is a loving, near-perfect ode to author Louisa May Alcott and the importance of having agency and telling your own story, even if you think no one will listen.
1. “Parasite” — South Korean writer-director Bong Joon-Ho has never been able to commit to one genre with any of his movies, including his American turns with “Snowpiercer” and “Okja.” Trying to balance elements of horror, comedy and sci-fi together, his ambition occasionally outweighs his ability. Not with “Parasite,” a story about a poor South Korean family, led by the charming con man Kim Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), who uses every manipulative measure to take over a rich family’s life and the fallout that ensues (I’ll keep it to that because the less you know going in, the better). It starts off as a black comedy and shifts to a family drama, before becoming a thriller and eventually, a horror film as we watch the plans, or lack thereof, of the Kim family get foiled by angles they did not expect. It’s a harrowing, funny and ultimately, emotional look at a family that’s been rendered powerless until it stakes its claim in a dog-eat-dog world, only to find it was not what was expected. It’s a movie that I’ll be thinking about a lot for years to come.