- 1917 – A masterpiece. Yes, its epic-yet-intimate single-shot look, accomplished by meticulous planning and execution, is brilliant, but more importantly it engages us at the deepest level. I haven’t been this impacted by the sheer humanity of a film since Schindler’s List.
- Parasite – This genre-twisting dramedy is utterly fascinating. We don’t know who to trust or what to expect, but we care about each of them. A breakthrough for acclaimed Korean director Bong Joon-ho. Classism sucks!
- A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood – This moving story of forgiving what’s wrong and encouraging what’s right didn’t make the Oscar list, but it should have. It’s a feel-good movie that goes through the darkness to get there. Director Marielle Stiles Heller’s Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood-inspired approach is disarmingly apt.
- Dark Waters – Another Oscar oversight. This real-life drama of a lawyer’s years-long struggle to expose the crimes of chemical giant DuPont, is powerfully told and beautifully acted.
- Ford v Ferrari – A satisfyingly old-fashioned action drama (except for the profanity), centered on two great performances, and building to a stirring race sequence conclusion.
- Jojo Rabbit – Like Parasite, Jojo breaks rules, as do all of writer-director Taita Waitiki’s films. Yes, it’s quirky and funny, dancing along the edges of insensitivity (never quite falling in), but it’s also unexpectedly touching. My favorite comedy, and one of my favorite films, of the year.
- Knives Out – This neo-traditional whodunnit is well plotted, and full of delightfully eccentric characters and laughs. The mystery is fun if not brilliant, and the ending is satisfying. Is there a sequel in the works? Duh!
- Toy Story 4 – We didn’t think another conclusion was needed but, hey, we got to spend a little more time with the Toys we love! And it lays the groundwork for Toy Story: The Next Generation. Hmm…
- The Upside – I was dubious about this remake of the French film The Intouchables, but Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston give hilarious and tender life to this solid American version.
Best Action Movies
- Joker – We’re loath to take the journey with a protagonist who’s moving inexorably toward violence and insanity—and yet we do. Joaquin Phoenix squeezes poignance from Joker’s final efforts to remain human. And along the way, writer-director Todd Phillips indicts the society that has pushed him here.
- Captain Marvel – Unlike many of my peers, I tend to prefer superhero “origin” stories to their action-heavy follow-ups. No Wonder Woman wannabe, the Captain (Brie Larson) has a will and style of her own. A satisfying start from filmmaking duo Anna Boden and Ryan K. Fleck.
- Shazam – I was a major Chuck fan, so I’m delighted to see it’s talented star Zachary Levi nail the lead in a hit movie! Shazam is a bit too long and a little uneven, but all-in-all it’s a great launch for this sweetly down-to-earth superhero.
- Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – Rise had so many loose ends to tie up! As a result, there was no way it was going to be “a fresh new take.” Still, it brings a satisfying conclusion to the Gen 3 character arcs. And, yes, I got choked up when Rey came “home” to Tatooine. Coming soon: Star Wars: A Fresh New Take?
- Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – See it for the first 2/3rds, and for Leo and Brad. I’m just so tired of Tarantino’s obsession with revenge fantasies. I thought Once might be different, but in the end, well, forget it Jake, it’s Tarantino.
- The Irishman – Yes, there’s a shattered loyalty theme, but unlike Joker, Scorsese’s violent mob characters are content with being sociopaths. Nothing really changes.
- Spider-Man: Far From Home – One of the better S-M re-re-re-reboots. And Tom Holland is adorable.
- Judy – Two words: Renée Zellweger. Solid film, great acting.
- Bombshell – See this docudrama, too, for its acting, especially Charlize Theron.
- Marriage Story – A thoughtful and sadly real story about people who don’t know how to make marriage work. Neither, I suspect, do the filmmakers.
- Avengers: Endgame – I’ll miss these guys, even as I anticipate what’s next!