Here are ten more movies I really enjoyed this year, but not enough to include them on my Best Movies Of 2019 list. Still, they’re worth adding to your Amazon Prime/Netflix queue or tracking down on DVD. My capsule reviews are below, but you can read my full reviews by clicking on the title of each movie.
#11) “Booksmart” A coming-of-age story that plays out like similar sagas, but has a wit and sense of humor all its own. It’s not the first movie in the genre to have female leads, but it is contemporary, funny, and offbeat. First-time director Olivia Wilde isn’t afraid to play with the form. The movie, written by four women, understands who Molly and Amy are, and surrounds them with just enough wacky supporting characters to drive the story. Wilde perfectly cast her leads: Beanie Feldstein, the best friend in “Ladybird,” plays Molly; and Kaitlyn Dever, so good as Loretta McCready on “Justified” and Jayden in “Short Term 12,” is Amy. Their natural chemistry had me believing these were lifelong friends who loved each other, even when a twist threatens to drive them apart.
#12) “Always Be My Maybe” Ali Wong and Randall Park star in this rom-com about Sasha and Marcus, two best friends who grew up together as next-door neighbors but went down different paths after high school graduation. More than a decade later, their paths cross again just as she’s dumped her live-in boyfriend (Daniel Dae Kim) and moved back to their hometown to open up a second restaurant. Wong and Park admit “When Harry Met Sally” was the inspiration for their story and, like Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal, they have an innate chemistry that you know is going to bring them together in the end. It is a pleasure to see a rom-com with Asian characters who are a little more relatable than those in “Crazy Rich Asians,” which I was lukewarm about last year.
#13) “The Farewell” Big-screen newcomer Awkwafina has had a pretty good run in her first two years. After displaying her scene-stealing lighter side in “Ocean’s 8” and “Crazy Rich Asians,” she proved her dramatic abilities with a more serious role in “The Farewell.” She plays Billi, a Chinese-American millennial struggling to get by in New York City. The highlight of her week is a phone call with her grandmother, Nai Nai, in China. Despite being separated by thousands of miles, these two independent women have a strong connection. That’s what makes it tough when Billi finds out Nai Nai has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and has only a few months to live — a fact the family and her doctors have decided to keep from the older woman. They justify the deceit as “a good lie” and plan to not tell her the truth for as long as possible, believing that knowing she has cancer will make Nai Nai’s life worse. Can Billi keep the secret, too?
#14) “The Aeronauts” In 1862, scientist James Glaisher wanted to observe the differences in the layers of Earth’s atmosphere by taking a balloon up higher than anyone ever had. Since he was not a balloonist, he hired Amelia Wren, who had been aloft with her late husband several times until his tragic death. She reluctantly agreed to be Glaisher’s pilot, and the film follows their flight in almost real time, with flashbacks to the incidents that drove each of the characters to that point, and onscreen graphics that mark both the elapsed time and the altitude they reached. For much of the movie, Jones and Redmayne are the only people onscreen, so it relies entirely on their chemistry, which they had already established as co-stars of the 2014 Stephen Hawking biography, “The Theory Of Everything” (for which both were Oscar-nominated, and he won). While Redmayne once again plays a brilliant scientist, it is Jones’ work as the courageous Wren that really stands out in a beautifully-shot movie thriller. Hamish Patel also appears in a small supporting role.
#15) “Long Shot” Charlize Theron is Charlotte Field, the US Secretary of State, a brilliant woman who traveled the world making deals with foreign leaders. Seth Rogen is Fred Flarsky, a talented journalist working for an alternative weekly in Brooklyn until he quit in protest when the paper was bought by a Rupert Murdoch-like media mogul (Andy Serkis) who believed that climate change is caused by gay marriage. How are the two lead characters connected? It turns out that when Fred was 13, he had a major crush on Charlotte, his 16-year-old neighbor and babysitter. Two decades later, they re-connected when they ran into each other at an event. Recognizing his writing skills and hoping he can help lighten up her image for the presidential run, Charlotte hired Fred as a speechwriter despite the extreme disapproval of her chief of staff, Maggie (a deadpan June Diane Raphael). As Charlotte and Fred worked together and got to know each other better, sparks flew and an unlikely romance bloomed.
#16) “Yesterday” A comedy/fantasy based on a simple idea. Jack Malik (Hamish Patel) is a British singer/songwriter who’s been trying to get his music career going for ten years, but no one seems to care, except his friend/manager Ellie (Lily James), who’s stuck by him since they were teenagers. He needs a miracle — and gets one via a 12-second worldwide blackout, after which he’s the only person in the world who remembers The Beatles. Even Google has never heard of them. The movie doesn’t explain what happened, nor its global implications, sticking instead to the story of this single man who discovers he’s the only one who knows anything about the most popular band of all time. Jack decides to pretend that he’s the one who wrote all those songs, and his life begins to change.
#17) “The Irishman” Based on Charles Brandt’s book about Frank Sheeran, a mob hitman who confessed to many crimes and claimed he was the guy who killed Jimmy Hoffa. Writer Steve Zaillian adapted the book for his screenplay, with plenty of input from director Martin Scorsese. Thus, “The Irishman” is not based-on-a-true-story as much as it’s based-on-stories-one-guy-told. Robert DeNiro plays Sheeran and Al Pacino is Hoffa, but it’s Joe Pesci who steals the movie as Russell Bufalino, a mob boss who speaks in quiet, measured tones that send a true message of power. He never raises his voice, just looks you in the eye until you understand what you must do. It’s a master class in acting and the best performance of his career, very different from his best known roles in “Goodfellas” and “My Cousin Vinny.”
#18) “The Mustang” A wild horse must be broken so he can go on to something more useful to humans than running around free. Roman Coleman is a violent felon who must be broken, too, but all he’ll go on to is a lot more days and nights in prison. Horse and man meet when Coleman (Matthias Schoenaerts) is given the chance to participate in a program run in Nevada to train wild mustangs while simultaneously rehabilitating convicts. The program is run by Bruce Dern, ornery as ever, who needs the mustangs in shape and ready to be ridden so they can be auctioned off to ranchers and other agencies (Las Vegas metro police, the border patrol, etc.). French director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre shows a real feel for this almost-western, and gets good performances out of each species.
#19) “Official Secrets” In 1989, the British parliament passed The Official Secrets Act, which made it illegal for anyone in the intelligence services or a government contractor to reveal memos of other orders that had been deemed Secret or Confidential. In 2003, Katherine Gun (Keira Knightley) broke that law. At the time, she worked at GCHQ — the British agency that gathered and sorted through intelligence gathered around the world — where she translated documents and wiretap audio. One day, Katherine and all her colleagues got a memo from a higher up telling them to listen in on the private phone calls of the diplomats from the nations that made up the UN Security Council. The hope was to catch someone doing something that would open them up to being blackmailed into voting for the invasion of Iraq that the Bush administration was pushing for relentlessly. When Katherine leaked the memo, it became front page news, and all hell broke loose.
#20) “Captain Marvel” Writer/directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck — who put me in my only major motion picture, “Mississippi Grind” — have a lot more money and toys to play with, as they have been tasked with making the first Marvel movie with a female protagonist (after twenty with males front and center). They made a good choice in Brie Larson — who I liked so much in “Room” — for their lead, Air Force Captain Carol Danvers, who, like so many others in this genre, mysteriously gains superpowers and must learn how to harness them for good. In this case, that means stopping a galactic war between two alien races. Larson is fully up to the task and gives the movie a female empowerment message.
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