The following movies are my choices for the Top Ten Best Films of 2019.
1. 1917 In northern France during World War I, British soldiers Schofield (George McKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) embark on an extremely perilous mission to deliver a message warning of an ambush likely to kill 1600 members of a battalion. Sam Mendes’ “1917” qualifies as one of the finest war film ever as it utilizes long tracking shots and you-are-there cinematography by the great Roger Deakins to make the viewer a part of the bloody trench warfare.
2. THE IRISHMAN An epic masterpiece by lauded filmmaker Martin Scorsese, “The Irishman” remains a compelling mob saga for all of its 3 and 1/2 hours. Its blend of melancholy memories, dark humor, violence and riveting performances by Robert DeNiro as Frank Sheeran, Joe Pesci as Russell Bufalino and Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa make it impossible to look away from the onscreen action.
3. ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD Writer/director and genre master Quentin Tarantino cleverly weaves disparate plot threads together as TV cowboy Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff Booth’s (Brad Pitt) narrative intersects with the creepy schemes of a band of hippies in reimagined Hollywood circa 1969.
4. PARASITE South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho’s quirky gem, which won the Palm D’Or at Cannes, blends comedy, mystery and drama into a brilliant thriller topped off with scathing social commentary. When a poverty stricken family manage to insinuate themselves into the household of a wealthy family, the consequences are wildly unpredictable.
5. JOJO RABBIT In the waning days of World War II, 10-year-old Jojo Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) heads into his indoctrination at Jungvolk (Hitler Youth) camp accompanied by his imaginary clownish friend Adolf (Taika Waititi, who also wrote and directed the film). The often hilarious and audacious, but insightful movie examines bigotry, hate and love.
6. A HIDDEN LIFE Acclaimed screenwriter and director Terrence Malick blends his signature poetic style with a compelling true narrative about Austrian farmer Franz Jagerstatter (August Diehl), a man of principle whose refusal to salute Adolf Hitler leads to horrific consequences. The poignant parallel stories of Franz and his wife Fani (Valerie Patchner) unfold in a heartbreaking saga of love and spiritual strength.
7. MARRIAGE STORY Noah Baumbach’s comic drama stars Scarlett Johansson as Nicole and Adam Driver as Charlie, a married couple with an 8-year-old son, who are the verge of a split. The coast-to-coast divorce turns nightmarish for Charlie when Nicole hires aggressive attorney Nora Fanshaw (Laura Dern). It’s “Kramer vs. Kramer” 40 years later.
8. LITTLE WOMEN Screenwriter and director Greta Gerwig retells Louisa Mae Alcott’s endearing family saga of the March family in a fresh way. Grown-up fledgling writer Jo (Saoirse Ronan) hearkens back to her earlier life with her siblings Meg (Emma Watson), Amy (Florence Pugh) and Beth (Eliza Scanlen) and their beloved Marmee (Laura Dern).
9. JOKER Joaquin Phoenix gives an Oscar-worthy performance in Todd Phillips’ violent, disturbing and fascinating origin story of would-be comedian Arthur Fleck who turns into the mad clown known as Joker in the new DC Black franchise.
10, THE TWO POPES Writer Anthony McCarten and director Fernando Meirelles follow actual historical events in this humorous, profound and uplifting feature. In 2014 odd couple Pope Benedict XVI aka Joseph Ratzinger (Anthony Hopkins) and Argentinean Cardinal Jorge Maria Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce) become acquainted at the Pope’s Castel Gandolfo summer residence and begin discussing a decision that surprises the world.