It’s the year that was…
On a personal note I ended up skipping doing a year end list last year because I was laid up with what just might be the worst case of the flu that I’ve ever had, so to say that I’m happy I was able to pump out a list in the face of everything makes me very happy.
Obviously I’ve got to thank the entire team over here at In The Seats for contributing to all facets of what made 2019 quite possibly our best year yet and as we slide into 2020 with new challenges ahead, new team members joining the squad and so very much more, I have to say that that I couldn’t have done it without you and I love you all.
In case you we’re wondering the rules for this list we’re simple. If it was released for the first time for public consumption (ie No Festivals) either theatrically, VOD, Streaming, etc in North American…it counts as eligible.
Anyway…it’s the first day of the New Year, so let’s reflect on the best of the year 2019.
Director Olivia Wilde makes her feature debut with one hell of a bang essentially taking over the reins of the modern comedy giving it a fresh and wholly inclusive vibe. This tale of best friends and academic overachievers Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) who on the eve of graduation come to the sad reality that they’ve missed out on all the fun of high school while they were hitting the books. Determined to make up for lost time, these two set out on a wild adventure that won’t be soon forgotten.
With this film Wilde officially announces herself as a directorial force to be reckoned with as this incredibly sharp script takes the high school graduation comedy and makes it feel relevant once again. It’s a breakout performance from Kaitlyn Dever (who also turned quite a few heads this year in the Netflix Limited Series Unbelievable) and it further cemented Beanie Feldstein as comedic powerhouse in the making.
- The Edge of Democracy
A cautionary tale for these times of democracy in crisis, this film is the personal and political fuse to explore one of the most dramatic periods in Brazilian history. Combining unprecedented access to leaders past and present, including Presidents Dilma Rousseff and Lula da Silva, with accounts of her own family’s complex political and industrial past, filmmaker Petra Costa witnesses their rise and fall and the tragically polarized nation that remains.
It’s a documentary that’s been slept on by most and is now available on Netflix, but this highly personal and bristling tale from filmmaker Petra Costa isn’t one to be ignored as it is a shocking chronicle of the dissolution of democracy when we see the early stages of this kind of rest happening in our own backyard.
- American Factory
In post-industrial Ohio, a Chinese billionaire opens a new factory in the husk of an abandoned General Motors plant, hiring two thousand blue-collar Americans. Early days of hope and optimism give way to setbacks as high-tech China clashes with working-class America.
Directors Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar manage something rarely seen in the modern movie making age. It manages to be empathetic but also angry at the same time as this nuanced look at globalization not only gives us the outer environment costs of it all but the real world human side of the equation as well. We get to see workers from both countries experience the benefits and drawbacks from this culture clash and if this is the first collaboration for Barack and Michelle Obama’s new production company; ‘Higher Ground’ then it makes me hopeful for the future because while it looks like it on the outside, this isn’t a film about politics, it’s about real people. That gets lost a little too often these days in the 24 hour news cycle that never takes a break.
Georg, a German refugee (Franz Rogowski), flees to Marseille assuming the identity of a recently deceased writer whose papers he is carrying. There he delves into the delicate and complex culture of the refugee community, becoming enmeshed in the lives of a young mother and son and falling for a mysterious woman named Marie (Paula Beer).
Deftly adapted from the novel of the same name by Anna Seghers; writer/director Christian Petzold gives us a Kafkaesque trip down the rabbit hole as he transitions a story that was written in 1944 to the modern day. It feels more urgent and vibrant as ever as he allows empathizing with the plight of displaced people on a level that has rarely been seen before. Stars Franz Rogowski and Paula Beer carry the bulk of the movie with palpable electricity which gets us even more engaged with the overall narrative.
- The Souvenir
A shy but ambitious film student (Honor Swinton Byrne) begins to find her voice as an artist while navigating a turbulent courtship with a charismatic but untrustworthy man (Tom Burke). She defies her protective mother (Tilda Swinton) and concerned friends as she slips deeper and deeper into an intense, emotionally fraught relationship that comes dangerously close to destroying her dreams.
Writer/Director Joanna Hogg just might be the best kept secret to the laymen film fan (she was to even this critic) but The Souvenir is a haunting tale of first love gone awry. Shot as if in a fevered dream, Hogg wants this story to wash over us like a warm bath until we realize that we’ve fallen asleep in the tub and are underwater. Honor Swinton Byrne (daughter of the iconic Tilda) marks herself as a star in the making and with Hogg already in post production on a sequel to this tale we just can’t wait to see what’s next!
- The Last Black Man In San Francisco
Jimmie Fails dreams of reclaiming the Victorian home his grandfather built in the heart of San Francisco. Joined on his quest by his best friend Mont, Jimmie searches for belonging in a rapidly changing city that seems to have left them behind. As he struggles to reconnect with his family and reconstruct the community he longs for, his hopes blind him to the reality of his situation.
From Writer/Director Joe Talbot (who also co-wrote the piece with star Jimmie Fails) is a love letter to the neighbourhood’s that get chewed up and lost during most cities struggles with gentrification. It’s a journey that feels akin to the like of Terry Gilliam or Andrei Tartovsky as we journey through the slowly crumbling refuge of the neighborhoods in cities that have been birth the kind of creativity that has driven the modern age.
- I Lost My Body
In a Parisian laboratory, a severed hand escapes its unhappy fate and sets out to reconnect with its body. During a hair-raising escapade across the city, the extremity fends off pigeons and rats alike to reunite with pizza boy Naoufel. Its memories of Naoufel and his love for librarian Gabrielle may provide answers about what caused the hand’s separation, and a poetic backdrop for a possible reunion between the three.
For all intents and purposes, this animated feature from director Jérémy Clapin (which is currently on Netflix) is oddly life affirming while being a little macabre at the same time. At its core, it’s a touching recount of loss, the importance of memory and the hope of reuniting one day.
- A Hidden Life
Based on real events, A Hidden Life is the story of Franz Jägerstätter, who refused to fight for the Nazis in World War II. When the Austrian peasant farmer is faced with the threat of execution for treason, it is his unwavering faith and his love for his wife, Fani, and children that keeps his spirit alive.
It’s a cinematically lyrical story that could have only been told by the likes of Terrance Malick as he goes overseas to rediscover his mojo. It won’t be for everyone but this is a film that gives us a glimpse into the importance of faith; not just in something bigger then yourself but more importantly in each other. It’s a vital reminder of the strength of character in the face of crisis and tragedy.
- Her Smell
From writer/director Alex Ross Perry, Her Smell is the story of a self-destructive punk rocker (Elizabeth Moss) struggles with sobriety while trying to recapture the creative inspiration that led her band to success.
As much as I want to talk about director Alex Ross Perry and the generally brilliant nature of how this intense story was put together, I have to give all love and respect to Elizabeth Moss as our Becky Something. She throws herself into this role with such abandon that we occasionally have a hard time recognizing that it’s her. This performance can easily be put in the dictionary besides the word “Fearless”. Together Perry and Moss craft something that occasionally feels like history but manages to rise off the page and put us in the dank dressing room of a rock club with god know what happening all around us.
- The Lighthouse
From Writer/Director Robert Eggers the visionary filmmaker behind the horror masterpiece The Witch, The Lighthouse is a hypnotic and hallucinatory tale of two lighthouse keepers on a remote and mysterious New England island in the 1890s.
To put it quite simply, this movie is bonkers but in ALL the right ways as Eggers takes us down the rabbit hole of madness in glorious Black and White. It’s a movie out of time and it’s all original out of the head of an inspired genius of the visual medium of storytelling.
At the height of the First World War, two young British soldiers, Schofield (George MacKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) are given a seemingly impossible mission. In a race against time, they must cross enemy territory and deliver a message that will stop a deadly attack on hundreds of soldiers—Blake’s own brother among them.
It’s really a film about scale, as director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins give us an emotionally harrowing journey where we simply aren’t sure of what might be around the next corner. It’s an absolute stunner that needs to be seen on as large of a screen as you can possibly muster with strong performances from the leads, 1917 puts us into the trenches like we haven’t been since Saving Private Ryan.
- The Body Remembers When The World Broke Open
Two Indigenous women living very different lives are briefly brought together by desperate circumstances.
It’s a very poignant and important film which I won’t ramble on too much about since our Paolo Kagaoan did get quoted on the trailer and poster. You can read his review right here.
- Marriage Story
Marriage Story is about what we tend to forget at the end of a marriage. It’s an incisive and compassionate portrait of a marriage breaking up and a family staying together.
From Writer/Director Noah Baumbach; Marriage Story is a deeply personal tale that puts us in the thick of emotion at its raw. The film is funny, sad and tragic at the same time, we’re angry one second and sympathetic the next. It’s a story that at its core value is far from a happy one but it’s so incredibly life affirming that we just don’t mind bearing witness to the pain. It’s easily one of the films of the year because it’s by far the most humanistic experience put to the screen.
- The Two Popes
Behind Vatican walls, the traditionalist Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins) and the reformist future Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce) must find common ground to forge a new path for the Catholic Church.
While it very obviously can’t avoid some over stylized moments; The Two Popes is a very thrilling movie that dives deep into the theological debate of the Church’s role in society. Both Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins are given room to breathe in this one and really command the screen thanks to the stellar direction of Fernando Meirelles.
- Apollo 11
From director Todd Douglas Miller (Dinosaur 13) Apollo 11 is a cinematic event fifty years in the making. Crafted from a newly discovered trove of 65mm footage, and more than 11,000 hours of uncatalogued audio recordings, Apollo 11 takes us straight to the heart of NASA’s most celebrated mission—the one that first put men on the moon, and forever made Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin into household names. Immersed in the perspectives of the astronauts, the team in Mission Control, and the millions of spectators on the ground, we vividly experience those momentous days and hours in 1969 when humankind took a giant leap into the future.
Apollo 11 reminded us what it felt like to be excited for the joys of human discovery and those moments where the planet genuinely stopped to watch what it had just accomplished. It’s a masterful feat from Director Todd Douglas Miller and his team to piece together the visceral experience that this initial moon watch was on a global scale.
- The Farewell
Chinese-born, U.S.-raised Billi (Awkwafina) reluctantly returns to Changchun to find that, although the whole family knows their beloved matriarch, Nai-Nai, has been given mere weeks to live, everyone has decided not to tell Nai Nai herself. To assure her happiness, they gather under the joyful guise of an expedited wedding, uniting family members scattered among new homes abroad. As Billi navigates a minefield of family expectations and proprieties, she finds there’s a lot to celebrate: a chance to rediscover the country she left as a child, her grandmother’s wondrous spirit, and the ties that keep on binding even when so much goes unspoken.
It’s only the second feature from writer/director Lulu Wang but rarely have we been fortunate enough to have seen this kind of self-assuredness and confidence in a story teller to come on the scene. Awkwafina takes herself up a notch as a talented comedienne who is also more than adapt at family drama. It’s the kind of story that you can actually find comfort in because this story and these characters are just so damn relatable that you can’t help but get invested in them all.
- Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Long Day’s Journey Into Night is a noir-tinged stunner about a lost soul (Jue Huang) on a quest to find a missing woman from his past (Wei Tang). Following leads across Guizhou province, he crosses paths with a series of colorful characters, among them a prickly hairdresser played by Taiwanese superstar Sylvia Chang. When the search leads him to a dingy movie theater, the film launches into an hour-long, gravity-defying 3D sequence shot that plunges its protagonist—and us—into a labyrinthine cityscape.
This film is proof positive that on occasion 3D filmmaking is used for good…and not just to get an extra $3 dollars out of our collective wallets. Long Day’s Journey Into Night is an entrancing piece of cinema that just maximizes what is truly possible with the medium. And don’t worry it’s just as good in 2D as it is in 3D.
- Uncut Gems
Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), a charismatic New York City jeweler, is always on the lookout for the next big score. When he makes a series of high-stakes bets that could lead to the windfall of a lifetime, Howard must perform a precarious high-wire act, balancing business, family, and encroaching adversaries on all sides, in his relentless pursuit of the ultimate win.
From the team of Benny and Joshua Safdie, Uncut Gems is the kind of film that defies all genres if only because it’s straddling all of them. Adam Sandler gives the performance of a lifetime as a man who can’t help but live on the edge. You’re disgusted with him one minute and rooting for him the very next minute. It’s a frenetic piece of cinema that you just won’t be able to look away from.
- Little Women
Little Women draws on both the classic novel and the writings of Louisa May Alcott, and unfolds as the author’s alter ego, Jo March, reflects back and forth on her fictional life. In writer-director Greta Gerwig’s take, the beloved story of the March sisters—four young women each determined to live life on her own terms—is both timeless…
Writer/Director Greta Gerwig reinvents the wheel on this classic tale by bringing a fresh spin on this beloved tome by freshening up the tone, shifting the focus just a little bit and making it all feel cinematic for the very first time.
Its stellar casting as Saorise Ronan playing Jo March is the anchor you’d expect and Florence Pugh in a tweaked version of Amy March is really bringing fresh energy to it all. Gerwig has taken this classic and beloved story and shone it through a different kind of prism and given us some sophisticated storytelling that takes her to the next level.
- Pain & Glory
Pain and Glory tells of a series of reencounters experienced by Salvador Mallo, a film director in his physical decline. Some of them in the flesh, others remembered: his childhood in the 60s, when he emigrated with his parents to a village in Valencia in search of prosperity, the first desire, his first adult love in the Madrid of the 80s, the pain of the breakup of that love while it was still alive and intense, writing as the only therapy to forget the unforgettable, the early discovery of cinema, and the void, the infinite void created by the incapacity to keep on making films. It’s a film that talks about creation, about the difficulty of separating it from one’s own life and about the passions that give it meaning and hope. In recovering his past, Salvador finds the urgent need to recount it, and in that need he also finds his salvation.
A deeply personal story from writer/director Pedro Almodovar that really dives deep into his genuine and pure love of cinema with it all anchored by a truly enlightened and mature performance from Antonio Banderas and while it lacks some Almodovar’s flash making it one of his more subtle experiences it’s all so damn lush that it just might be one of his best.
A mother (Lupita Nyong’o) and a father (Winston Duke) take their kids (Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex) for an idyllic summer getaway. Haunted by an unexplainable and unresolved trauma from her past and compounded by a string of eerie coincidences, Adelaide feels her paranoia elevate to high-alert as she grows increasingly certain that something bad is going to befall her family. After spending a tense beach day with their friends, the Tylers (Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Cali Sheldon, Noelle Sheldon), Adelaide and her family return to their vacation home. When darkness falls, the Wilsons discover the silhouette of four figures holding hands as they stand in the driveway. Us pits an endearing American family against a terrifying and uncanny opponent: doppelgängers of themselves.
As much as everyone loves Get Out, make no mistake that this is the film that Jordan Peele wanted to make. Us is a glorious mind fuck of a movie that takes us into areas of social commentary while scaring the hell out of us. Lupita Nyong’o was inspired in a duel role and has found a real niche for herself while playing some bent characters.
- The Irishman
The Irishman is an epic saga of organized crime in post-war America told through the eyes of World War II veteran Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), a hustler and hit man who worked alongside some of the most notorious figures of the 20th Century. Spanning decades, the film chronicles one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in American history, the disappearance of legendary union boss Jimmy Hoffa, and offers a monumental journey through the hidden corridors of organized crime: its inner workings, rivalries and connections to mainstream politics.
While the themes are familiar, this is Scorsese taking it to a different level as we get a tale of a sprawling tale of regret. Joe Pesci is the standout here coming out of retirement as Russell Bufalino and we get to see these iconic men in their later years and filled with regret. While the digital CGI de-aging does get a little goofy, this is a sprawling tale of a film that could have only been mounted by a Netflix. It’s a perfect example of how you push familiar stories to some really new and interesting levels.
- Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood visits 1969 Los Angeles, where everything is changing, as TV star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his long time stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) make their way around an industry they hardly recognize anymore.
This ninth film from writer/director Quentin Tarantino is a love letter to tinsel town and wrapped up in a demented little fable. It’s a warm surrealistic movie that might actually be his least Tarantino-esque effort that just might be his best as it goes away from his usual beats and we get some very thoughtful performances from both DiCaprio and Pitt about existing in a business that has quite frankly passed them by.
- A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood
Tom Hanks portrays Mister Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, a timely story of kindness triumphing over cynicism, based on the true story of a real-life friendship between Fred Rogers and journalist Tom Junod. After a jaded magazine writer (Matthew Rhys) is assigned a profile of Fred Rogers, he overcomes his skepticism, learning about empathy, kindness, and decency from America’s most beloved neighbor.
To say that this movie isn’t quite getting the love that it deserves would simply be the goddamn understatement of the entire year. Director Marielle Heller takes what could have easily been a very by the numbers kind of film and turns it on its ear as a reminder that the lessons that Mr. Rodgers so deftly taught children are ones that we need reminded of today in a world that moves far too fast for any of us. Great performances from Matthew Rhys and Tom Hanks truly bring this home in what might be the one movie that modern audiences actually NEED to see in these cold and fast paced days.
Meet the Park Family: the picture of aspirational wealth. And the Kim Family, rich in street smarts but not much else. Be it chance or fate, these two houses are brought together and the Kim’s sense a golden opportunity. Masterminded by college-aged Ki-woo, the Kim children expediently install themselves as tutor and art therapist, to the Parks. Soon, a symbiotic relationship forms between the two families. The Kim’s provide “indispensable” luxury services while the Parks obliviously bankroll their entire household. However, when a parasitic interloper threatens the Kim’s’ newfound comfort, a savage, underhanded battle for dominance breaks out, threatening to destroy the fragile ecosystem between the Kim’s and the Parks that could irrevocably change all of their lives.
I don’t think that there’s a movie in 2019 that’s had more hyperbole around it from minute one…but here’s the unique thing surrounding this film from noted Korean auteur Bong Joon Ho. The afore mentioned hyperbole, is all 100% accurate. This is the kind of movie that will emotionally floor audiences, even after multiple viewings, it only gets better.
That’s it kids…2019 is filled and done. Now it all begins over again.