Many films in 2019 dealt with semi-autobiographical tales. Ageing directors wrote and/or directed stories which mirrored their lives. They looked at aspects of their own collective past and current present, giving us films like Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” and Pedro Almodovar’s “Pain and Glory”. Lulu Wang made us remember how much we love our grandmas in “The Farewell” and Shia LaBeouf showed us the specific and cathartic toll that acting and fatherhood can take on a person. None of these personal stories compare to the one told by longtime friends-turned-collaborators Joe Talbot and Jimmie Fails with “The Last Black Man in San Francisco”.
In the opening scene of “Little Women” (2019), when we see Saoirse Ronan’s character entering a publisher’s office to try to sell her work and get herself taken seriously as a writer, we’re not just seeing the character of Jo March. We’re also seeing Louisa May Alcott, who wrote the novel that the film is adapted from, and perhaps even the film’s writer and director Greta Gerwig herself.
I have quite a high bar for emotional reactions to film, whether that be laughing or crying. “Alice” had me crying in my seat all through the credits. The two key elements to Alice's story are commonplace and not particularly remarkable in themselves. A husband squanders the family money, has affairs and leaves his wife. On the other side a woman is so backed into a financial corner that she turns to sex work. Nothing especially unique about either of those elements.
"The Peanut Butter Falcon" is one of my top films of all time. I managed to see it twice in the cinema and can’t wait to get the DVD so I can savour it over again. It’s an adventurous escape and a lesson in the power of loving broken people - as well as yourself. Structurally it's a straight forward story with two central characters and two antagonists, all with very clear goals. A) Get to the wrestling school and escape life, B) Catch the protagonists.
Heller’s “A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood” encapsulates everything which made Fred Rogers such an inspiration to children over the years, and the film carries its message of goodness and love so sincerely that even in this increasingly cynical world.
“Honey Boy” is a deeply sad, yet still hopeful story of a child, Otis, who essentially raised himself. That child’s story is largely based on the life of Shia LaBeouf, the writer and star of the film who plays his own abusive father. The film is raw and hard to watch at times as a young Otis (Noah Jupe) acts to support his parents while living in a motel with his father, James (Shia LaBeouf). Even with the upsetting events that take place, Otis finds joy in his work and through his friendship with a neighbor (FKA Twigs).
While Bong’s films are often very funny affairs, “Parasite” is his first outright comedy since 2000 debut “Barking Dogs Never Bite”. This is a pitch-black farce that frequently becomes a delightful caper – albeit one whose heroes have ineffably murky methods. You love to root against the Park couple: Yeon-kyo (Jo Yeo-jong) is a prim-and-proper lady and Dong-ik (Lee Sun-kyun) is a suave tech executive, but in reality they’re disgusted by the slightest bit of the real world.
“Little Woods” isn’t a perfect film, but it certainly is an indication that Nia DaCosta is a director to keep our eye on. While it has much to say about the United States that is particularly relevant, it is also a movie about the lengths that sisters will go to for each other. If you’re looking to catch up on some films in 2019 that were overlooked, “Little Woods” is a great place to start.
There’s no film from this year that is the perfect storm of incredible dark comedy and strong storytelling than the sophomore feature effort of writer/director Riley Stearns – “The Art of Self Defense”. The film, about a timid man attempting to find some self-confidence through learning karate only to discover the dark secrets of the local dojo he goes to, is just purely immaculate. Right from the first scene, the film easily found a direct line to my funny bone and continued to rattle it with every wild and odd moment that comes from Casey’s (Jesse Eisenberg) experience with learning martial arts and the overtly serious nature of Sensei (Alessandro Nivola).