Nineteen performances from 17 extraordinary actors had my attention in 2019. From quiet rage (Kelvin Harrison Jr. in Waves) to the explosive (Adam Driver in Marriage Story), and everything in between (Elisabeth Moss in Her Smell), 2019 displayed a Technicolor spectrum of human emotion.
On a historic night, Parasite became the first foreign-language film to win Best Picture during the 92nd Academy Awards ceremony. The accolades for director Bong Joon-ho’s rousing social critique didn’t end there; as the film won the newly minted Best International Feature Film (formerly Best Foreign Language Film), Bong received the second-ever Best Director win for a foreign-language film after Alfonso Cuarón was honored for Roma 11-and-a-half months ago, and Parasite became the sixth foreign-language film to take home Best Original Screenplay.
Co-writer and director Sam Mendes entrusted his frequent collaborator and cinematographer, Roger Deakins, with an ambitious one-shot war epic. The 70-year-old director of photography delivered a cinematic achievement fitting of his visual genius.
The origin story for the Clown Prince of Crime, whose history is often as fluid as his sanity, is firmly established in Joker. Loosely remaking Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, director Todd Phillips riffs on the Martin Scorsese classics without revamping them. Star Joaquin Phoenix is contorted and damaged as Batman’s notorious archnemesis, but never approaches Heath Ledger’s brilliant performance in 2008’s The Dark Knight. Joker masquerades as prestige film without revealing emotional, political, or intellectual depth behind its clown-shaped mask.
After 11 months of dull blockbusters unlikely to inspire you to do more than check your watch, Ford v Ferrari zips into theaters to finally quicken your pulse. James Mangold, writer-director of Logan and director of 3:10 to Yuma (2007), delivers the blockbuster of the year in a prestigious, Gulf Oil blue alloy chassis.
Disney, the IP empire behind Marvel, Star Wars, and remakes of its own animated classics, was responsible for an asinine, unprecedented 80 percent of box office hits in 2019. The dominance of a single multimedia conglomerate is counter to the oligopoly that we’ve grown accustomed to in the entertainment industry (and, broadly speaking, the United States).
A hectic opening 15 minutes set the pace for writer-director Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s literary classic. The seventh adaptation (!) of Little Women extracts its tone from its frenetic, distinctive, engrossing quadrivium of stars. Gerwig’s optimistic, feministic take on the 1868 novel uncovers an original film, even on the seventh try.
Co-writer and director J.J. Abrams launched the newest trilogy of Star Wars movies with 2015’s The Force Awakens. Writer-director Rian Johnson’s challenging (and somehow controversial) second entry, The Last Jedi, indicated a shift in priorities for the franchise. In The Rise of Skywalker, Abrams returns to bookend the trilogy and nullify Johnson’s efforts to advance the canon.
In 2005’s The Squid and the Whale, writer-director Noah Baumbach concentrated on Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) and Frank (Owen Kline), the children of divorcing parents. Returning to the subject of divorce 14 years later, Baumbach turns his camera on the adults. Marriage Story, like some divorces, is the manifestation of the swelling rage and lingering affection between two people who once shared every intimacy.
With stars like Mahershala Ali, Toni Collette, and Meryl Streep slumming it on the small screen, 2019 was another year dominated by miniseries, anthologies, and bite-sized seasons. Although a handful of new faces were able to enter the collective consciousness, the year’s best work came from familiar names and shows.