Top Ten Movies of 2019
Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
On my personal blog, I couldn’t just come up with a top ten. I came up with a top twenty. There were of course plenty more of films from this past year that I enjoyed, but I was able to narrow them down into the handful that spoke to me to my core or represent films that I’d love to see be remembered as examples of powerful film-making or storytelling. Hopefully, if you haven’t, you’ll take a chance and give these films a watch. Most are now available for home viewing.
10. HARRIET – This is one of only three films on my list that received any kind of nominations at the 92nd Academy Awards. None of those picks are films that are up for Best Picture, which gives an idea of where I stand with the Oscars. This film received two Oscar nominations. It’s up for Best Actress for Cynthia Erivo and Best Song for “Stand Up.” It tells the powerful story of Harriet Tubman, a woman who escaped slavery in 1849 from Dorchester County, Maryland, and how she became one of the greatest abolitionists in American history. The film tells the story though as almost a super-hero origin story and it’s very inspiring.
9. HAIL SATAN? – This is one of two documentaries on my list. It profiles a Satanist group that explains how the group is about religious freedom or religious liberty. The group exists mostly as a protest group, political activists working against Christian expressions on government or public property. It’s a great film that really exposes the heart of the First Amendment.
8. DRIVEN – This is one of two films that were released this year about the case surrounding the 1982 arrest of John DeLorean, the car engineer. This one was more a crime comedy that was as much about satirizing the events surrounding it, mainly jabbing at the idea of corrupt informants and entrapment.
7. DARK WATERS / SÓCRATES – I had a tie for this slot but switched places between these two. Both were in my top twenty of films, but one was outside the top ten. I kept swapping, being indecisive about which one I wanted in the final list. I gave up and left it as a tie. They’re both incredibly different. One is set in the United States. The other is set in Brazil. One is about corporate corruption. The other is about homophobia. Both are powerful in addressing important issues.
6. AD ASTRA – A lot of people have described this film as Apocalypse Now (1979), but in space. Brad Pitt stars as an astronaut who is sent on a mission to Neptune in order to find an older astronaut who has possibly gone insane. That older astronaut turns out to be his father. Pitt was nominated this year for another film he did, Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019), but it’s this film where I believe he gives the better performance. Plus, director James Gray crafts some of the most brilliant and exciting, action scenes I’ve seen all year with stunning visuals to boot.
5. ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE – This film is comparable to Crazy Rich Asians (2018), but in my opinion is vastly better. It’s funnier, more romantic and more relatable. It tackles a lot of the same issues as Crazy Rich Asians, but it does so in a manner that I found way more entertaining and interesting.
4. LITTLE WOODS – This is one of five films on my list that was directed or co-directed by a woman. Promotion of female filmmakers is important and not simply for sheer representation or equality’s sake. Nia DaCosta’s debut feature is another very timely and very relevant story, especially for those who live in southern or rural areas, struggling through poverty and addiction. With the opioid epidemic as something that people now recognize en masse, this film is a powerful glimpse into the effects of it.
3. JUST MERCY – One of the strongest themes of 2019 in both film and television has been the idea of criminal justice reform, particularly the trend of men falsely convicted, especially African-American men. In terms of the titles in cinema, this film by Destin Daniel Cretton was the absolute best. Buttressed by strong acting performances, such as from Jamie Foxx, playing the falsely accused black man, as well as Michael B. Jordan who embodies a kind vibe akin to Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), this film moved me to my core.
2. HONEYLAND – This is the second documentary on my list. It’s also a film that’s been nominated for both Best Documentary Feature and Best International Feature, formerly Best Foreign Language Film at the 92nd Academy Awards. This is the first film to be nominated in both those categories, which is a rather historical feat. It centers on a woman in North Macedonia who works as a beekeeper whose livelihood is threatened when a rowdy family of migrant farmers invades her desolate neighborhood. It’s a film about migrancy and socioeconomic clashes via work ethics on small scales. It’s also about nature and environmentalism, how good stewards to the Earth we need to be. As a piece of film-making, the craft on display here is absolutely extraordinary.
1. THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO – As all the films on this list, this is the kind of cinema of which I want to see more. It’s beautiful. It’s heartbreaking. It’s warm. It shows us the issues about which a lot of minorities have been complaining but done in an empathetic way and from a personal perspective. It also tackles ideas of masculinity and toxic masculinity in a brilliant, refreshing and subtle way that’s more touching and endearing than anything else. It also provides an insight into a city and its people that was very enlightening. I loved it.