Written & Directed by Trey Edward Shults
From the dizzying opening to the serene closing, Waves is an emotional rollercoaster that exists in two clear halves. Director Trey Edward Shults has explained that he wanted the first section to feel like a building anxiety attack and that the second piece would be a reassuring hug that things will get better. The result is one of the most beautiful and human films of 2019. It’s clear Shults has drawn inspiration from sources as varied as Moonlight, Punch-Drunk Love, and Chungking Express, managing to paint his dynamic style of filmmaking across the screen.
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Ad Astra (2019)
Written by James Gray and Ethan Gross
Directed by James Gray
Ad Astra is like Apocalypse Now mixed with 2001 and directed by Terrence Malick. That is a very loaded statement, but it’s the most accurate way I can sum up this film in a single line. Is it as good as those individual parts? No, but it is still one of the best science fiction films I’ve seen in years. The story is kept centered on the characters while allowing space for awe & wonder over the cosmic landscape. There are brief moments of action & peril that help to punctuate how empty and cold the solar system feels. This is an odyssey in a not too distant future that feels like the most likely bland extrapolation of what humanity would do with a conquered solar system.
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Marriage Story (2019)
Written & Directed by Noah Baumbach
I have never been divorced and have no plans to ever be. Noah Baumbach explores the time that makes up the dissolution of a relationship in his latest film, Marriage Story, and it feels real and painful. As Adam Driver’s Charlie says at one point, “It feels like I’m in a dream.” Even if we haven’t been divorced, we can relate to those moments in life that are so massive and painful that your brain goes hazy and disconnects from reality, simply to save your sanity. Yes, this is a film that features a couple getting divorced, yet it is so brimming over with love and sentiment.
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The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (2017)
Written & Directed by Noah Baumbach
In the same way, Woody Allen made his career focused on movies about intellectual types in New York, Noah Baumbach has taken that motif and added a genuine examination of family. Allen’s characters were always nebbish & neurotic but always seemed to be swinging singles. Baumbach’s characters are caught up in familial dysfunction. The Meyerowitz Stories delivers its narrative at a fast pace and will remind viewers of one of Baumbach’s contemporaries and sometimes collaborator, Wes Anderson. The picture is a more grounded take on the near fairytale-like world of The Royal Tenenbaums, complete with Ben Stiller as one of the siblings. Though this may sound incredibly derivative, the film has a familiar & seemingly forgotten tone you don’t find in movies these days.
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The Irishman (2019)
Written by Steve Zaillian
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Frank Sheerhan sits in a nursing home, hair gray and receding. He’s telling his story of rising from the ranks of a truck driver in Philadelphia to the close confidante of Jimmy Hoffa to no one. As the film unfolds, we can surmise his daughter Peggy is the imagined audience. She is perceptive in her youth, realizing the violent work her father does, and finding a more positive role model in Hoffa. She refuses not only to hear Frank’s story but will also not speak to him.
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The Goldfinch (2019)
Written by Peter Straughan
Directed by John Crowley
I often use sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic to get a sense of how people perceive a movie. I might use this when I’m interested in comparing my favorites with critics and audiences, or in the case of my We Wish You’d Forget film series find movies that universally panned. This year a strange anomaly came across those sites, The Goldfinch. From the trailers, I’d say I was mildly interested in this picture, and I enjoyed Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. I had even planned to see The Goldfinch opening week to review it, but life circumstances got in the way. However, I did read some of the reviews and was astonished that it wasn’t just panned a mediocre film but that critics seemed to revile it. Even more surprising was how audiences had the opposite reaction, and as a majority said they enjoyed the picture.
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The Wild Pear Tree (2018)
Written by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Ebru Ceylan, & Akın Aksu
Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan
The word “epic” is often associated with films & stories that span the globe and put the character up against a cosmic conflict. However, I argue that writer-director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s The Wild Pear Tree is an epic, but one about humanity and specifically finding meaning in one’s life. The film is just over three hours long, and it does feel lengthy while watching it. But what happens on screen is not some dour contemplative proceeding, but a genuinely funny while emotionally charged experience. The cinematography is glorious, the director knowing how to frame mundane details with profundity.
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