10 Worth Trying, 3 Worth Repeating, 3 Worth Waiting For, and 3 Worth Avoiding
Awkwafina has a break-out performance as a Chinese-American woman resisting the norms of her traditional family when they decide to keep her grandmother’s terminal illness from her. A glimpse into Asian family dynamics turns out to be rather universal.
An earnest and well-made film biography of abolitionist/advocate Harriet Tubman didn’t get the audience it deserved. Beautifully photographed with a solid cast, the movie fleshes out an important American icon as a living person, as portrayed by Cynthia Erivo. Leslie Odom Jr. and Janelle Monae provide excellent support.
Quiet and low-key, this sumptuous documentary about a Macedonian beekeeper is surprisingly mesmerizing. Hatidze’s spartan life and livelihood are profoundly threatened when a loud and chaotic family take up residence next door. Taut with drama and consequence, Honeyland plays like a scripted film even though it’s real life.
We’ve seen this story of violent but supposedly honorable wise guys before; in fact, we’ve seen it in a Martin Scorsese film with Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci in the cast. Nevertheless, as a valedictory meditation on thug life, The Irishman reminds us all of the consummate storytelling gifts of the celebrated director and the melancholic lived-in performances of its stars. In essence, it’s a gangland Twilight of the Gods.
Headed by Daniel Craig and Jamie Lee Curtis, the all-star cast—also featuring Michael Shannon, Toni Collette and Chris Evans—has a ball chewing up the scenery in Rian Johnson’s homage/spoof of hoary parlor whodunits. Cleverly scripted and tautly directed, Knives Out manages to evoke a few genuinely surprising twists amid the guffaws and winks.
Director/co-writer Robert Eggers demonstrated his way with historical psychological thrillers in The Witch (2015). In his newest film, two taciturn, emotionally stunted men struggle to maintain their sanity in an isolated, mysterious lighthouse in 1890 New England. Their conclusion: nothing supernatural is nearly as inscrutable and therefore terrifying as a fellow human being.
Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver dazzle in this searingly honest depiction of the decay of a once-solid marriage. Written and directed by Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha), the film avoids the easy villainizing of either party in this painful but ultimately compassionate story. Instead, we share, rather than merely observe, the excruciating challenge of ending a marriage while attempting to preserve a family.
Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
The first two-thirds of this movie is a loving if laconic fairy tale of late ‘60s Hollywood, as evoked by fading matinee idol Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stalwart stuntman and errand boy Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Full of eccentrics and oddballs, this would have been enough. But the finale comes with an unnecessary and unwanted dose of Quentin Tarentino’s signature uber-violence and gore.
Winner of the Palme D’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, this subversive South Korean feature is a comedy of (ill) manners as a destitute family slowly and horribly ingratiates itself into the home of a wealthy one. Directed and co-written by Bong Joon-ho (Okja, Snowpiercer), the film defies expectations by producing evermore-uncomfortable laughs as the invasion progresses.
Who could believe that one of the most compelling and self-deprecating film performances of the year would come from Adam Sandler? But it does. Sandler plays Howard Ratner, a charismatic but restless New York jeweler on the verge of a career-making transaction. But in closing the deal, he must first overcome all the unpulled threads of his personal and professional life. It’s directed with jittery bravado by independent film darlings Josh and Benny Safdie.
Other worthy films from 2019: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood; The Last Black Man in San Francisco; Midsommar; Pain and Glory: Peterloo, and Waves.
The characterization of this bawdy coming-of-age story as a distaff Superbad is unfairly reductive. Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein rollick through an incredible and entertaining night of pre-graduation hijinks under the direction of actress Olivia Wilde.
Dolemite Is My Name
Eddie Murphy embodies the on-the-nose title role with relish in a comedy about a performer chafing for movie stardom, even if it means making a profane and improbable martial arts thriller on the ultra cheap. Welcome back, Wesley Snipes!
Ford v Ferrari
A high-octane thriller starring Christian Bale and Matt Damon as a driver and auto designer fighting the odds to build a new race car to challenge Ferrari at the 1966 race at Le Mans.
Worth Waiting For (opening after deadline)
Actress-director Greta Gerwig, who garnered attention with her debut Lady Bird, puts her interpretation on the classic Alcott story. With Saoirse Ronan and Emma Watson.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
The ninth and final chapter of the colossal sci-fi saga with re-boot master J.J. Abrams back in the director’s chair…will the conclusion live up to impossibly high expectations?
The Two Popes
Two lions of the acting world—Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce—play outgoing Pope Benedict and incoming Pope Francis in a thoughtful drama of faith and politics.
Astronaut Brad Pitt undertakes a long (and tedious) space mission to find his enigmatic father in this credibility-straining drama. Some saw gravity and introspection here; I saw only pretension.
One of the most acclaimed twists in the X-Men comic-book mythology was turned into a tiresome film with Sophie Turner as an uncontrollable (and surprisingly unsympathetic) mutant.
Proof that acclaimed novels don’t always make equally worthy films. Despite a solid cast, this cinematic translation is disappointingly torpid.