Ranking All the Films I watched Last Year (2019)

Not to be confused with my top 100 films of the decade, this list ranks all films I watched in 2019 meaning films from any time period are featured. This list is an interesting peer into 84 unique films I either revisited or watched for the first time last year and includes a small response to each entry. I hope the following entries direct you to interesting feature-length projects, spark discourse amongst my picks or possibly respark a long forgotten love for a particular film.

84 Bad Times at the El Royal (2018, dir. Drew Goddard)

At around the 64th spot, the films on this list start to move from decent to great. Anything above 64 is mediocre, at best, to out right awful. Bad Times at the El Royale was single handedly the least engrossing film I watched throughout all of 2019. Overhyped and terribly plain. I’ll refrain from giving it another watch in the future unless pushed otherwise.

83 Queen & Slim (2019, dir. Melina Matsoukas)

A tiring and cliche premise coupled with a lazy script. This movie was simply not for me and frankly more harmful to the Black cinematic image than empowering. 

82 Dogtooth (2009, dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)

I need to give Lanthimos’ Dogtooth another chance. His films have always been incredibly hard for me to digest, to say the least.  I don’t hate Dogtooth but I don’t particularly like it either. 

81 Blue Ruin (2014, dir. Jeremy Saulnier)

Blue Ruin and the previous films on this list were all recommendations I came across in conversation or on the online film community. Once again, this entry severely whelmed me. A tense and cinematic story which doesn’t build to any pay off. 

80 Child’s Play (1988, dir. Tom Holland)

I spent years marveling at the icon of Chucky wondering how the psychopathic doll came to be. I can’t tell you how disappointed I was to learn that Chucky is 1) a grown-ass man who 2) transferred his consciousness into a doll by using voodoo…

79 Black and White in Color (1977, dir. Jean-Jacques Annaud)

I liked it. Definitely will rewatch this satirical criticism of French colonialism with a more open-mind in my next watch. 

78 The Big Lebowski (1998, dir. The Coen Brothers)

I’ll give it another viewing but no Cohen film has honestly engrossed me besides No Country for Old Men. Controversial I know.

77 Blue Velvet (1986. dir. David Lynch)

I’m not the only person who isn’t a fan of Blue Velvet. Roger Ebert gave it one star 

76 Brightburn (2019, dir. David Yarovesky)

I wanted more maniacal boy Clark Kent. Still Brightburn was an incredibly refreshing and much more realistic depiction of how a super powerful extra-terrestrial being would interact with our weak race. 

75 Godzilla: King of Monsters (2019, dir. Michael Dougherty)

Bring back Gareth Edwards. King of Monsters’ first trailer was better than the entire film.

74 How to Talk to Girls at Parties (2017, dir. John Cameron Mitchell)

A strange film but I loved this story about an alien race passing through Earth to complete a rites of passage.

73 Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018, dir. Peyton Reed)

Since 2011 I haven’t seen two MCU films in theaters, Guardians of the Galaxy—which I loved—and Ant-Man and the Wasp. I don’t care enough for Ant-Man films to give this any significant review.

72 Men in Black: International (2019, dir. F. Gary Gray)

Tessa Thompson made this movie for me. 

71 El Camino (2019, dir. Vince Gilligan)

El Camino didn’t really add much to the world of Breaking Bad. I would’ve loved to have Jesse’s future continue to be ambiguous, but it was quite nostalgic to see our favorite character return one las time. 

70 Woochi: The Demon Slayer (2009, dir. Choi Dong-hoon)

Shout out to my school’s Korean Culture Club for hosting movie nights. I would’ve never known about Woochi without it. The production quality of the film was quite low but, to be honest, I thoroughly enjoyed this Korean adventure flick regardless. 

69 A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001, dir. Steven Spielberg)

A.I works for me up until the last half of the film. Spielberg established a thought-provoking dynamic between a family’s artificially intelligent son, who they “adopted” to replace their hospitalized son. When their biological son returns, the in-house conflict is incredibly engaging. Spielberg questions the idea of family structures, parental roles, sentience and completely forgoes these themes with all succeeding scenes which see the A.I. son venture out in the real world after his “mom” throws him away. A.I. stops working for me then and it’s only until its last few minutes where I felt a semblance of engagement. But by that time, I was too checked out to care. 

68 Captain Marvel (2018, dir. Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck)

Decent but another formulaic MCU entry. 

67 Fantastic Beasts the Crimes of Grindelwald (2018, dir. David Yates)

Far more interesting than the first Fantastic Beasts.

66 Spider-Man Far From Home (2019, dir. Jon Watts)

Spider-Man Far From Home was a fun high-school adventure which just couldn’t surpass the refreshing take on the web slinger we were privileged to in Homecoming. Marvel showcases both its worst tendencies, an easily beaten third act villain, as well as its bests in just how much mindless fun Far Form Home can be.

65 It: Chapter Two (2019, dir. Andrés Muschietti)

I was incredibly disappointed with the second and final installment in the It franchise. Perhaps the absence of the first It’s greatest aspect, the young losers club, might have been attributed to how disengaging It:Chapter Two was. The older losers were well cast but their stardom, for me at least, was quite distracting. With many A-Listers and popular stars headlining Chapter Two, it was hard to believe just how much of “losers” the group was. The film may have benefited by casting lesser known capable actors to play the part in addition to a tighter script and shorter runtime. 

64 Oh Mercy (2019, dir. Arnaud Desplechin)

I honestly can’t remember much about this film but the acting was stellar .

63 High Life (2019, dir. Claire Denis)

It’s a little pretentious at times but I can’t deny how gorgeous this film’s composition is. High Life is not a film for everyone. It’s challenging, non-linear, doesn’t feature much dialogue and forefronts style over narrative. Much deserving of a re-watch, High Life works for me but I can understand how it might be a snooze fest for others. 

62 Under the Shadow (2016, dir. Babak Anvari)

I really need to expand my watchlist to more Iranian cinema. Under the Shadow is a fantastic neo-horror drama commenting on the anxiety, helplessness and pure fear one faces in the midst of war.

61 Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956, dir. Don Siegel)

To be honest,  I was far more interested in Philip Kaufman’s 1978 remake than the original. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) does an incredible job at depicting the fear of civilians who are witnessing the invasion of a practically invisible alien species in their township. When watched with modern horror expectations and Kaufman’s film in mind, the 1956 version isn’t too exceptional but regardless is a well-made film.

60 Sisters (1972, dir. Brian De Palma)

If I learned anything from this list, it’s that one’s feelings and appreciation for a film changes with time. I know De Palma is a master so I’ll certainly give Sisters another chance.

59 Dolemite is My Name (2019, dir. Craig Brewer)

After viewing Murphy’s love letter, I think I’m going to go watch the actual Dolemite film its inspired from. 

58 Under the Silver Lake (2018, dir. David Robert Mitchell)

I was a huge fan of David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows and ever since 2014 I could not wait to see what the indie director would make next. What would follow was his A24 distributed feature Under the Silver Lake. I can’t stress enough how much I love this films first two acts which ponder on the possible existence of secret world order. Protagonist Sam, played by a never less than great Andrew Garfield, pushes the idea of a cult society, a legion of powerful 1% elites and hidden messages seamlessly planted across various areas of our life. Sam goes on a wild hunt for answers, and for some reason along the way, the adventure is dropped and Under the Silver Lake morph’s into a pensive drama. The latter half of the film doesn’t work for me but the film as a whole is certainly deserving of a decent rating.

57 The 13th (2016, dir. Ava DuVernay)

It angers me how explicit information on the injustices of the New Jim Crow era and mass incarceration exists to such a high decree in Ava Duvernay’s The 13th and yet not much action has been made. While many may be passive to the cause, Duvernay’s doc certainly mobilized me to become an activist for the rights of incarcerated individuals. 

56 Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019, dir. J.J. Abrams)

No Star Wars film is perfect in the 21st century and The Rise of Skywalker has solidified that fact. I can’t however, ignore how JJ Abrams; messy “conclusion” to the saga, which also delegitimizes the politics of preceding films, made me cry 4 times. I blame it on John Williams though. 

55 Ready or Not (2019, dir. Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett)

Tumblr directed me to Ready or Not which I wasn’t opposed to viewing in theaters but ultimately wished I did after watching the gorgeous looking film on a 7 inch airplane screen. Ready to Not is a testament to the diversity and uniqueness of modern-era horror films. It was so refreshing to receive an original tale which has no interests in building to a larger franchise. The film also introduced me to one of my new favourite actress, Samara Weaving. 

54 Cleopatra Jones (1973, dir. Jack Starrett)

You won’t enjoy the thrill and uniqueness of Cleopatra Jones unless you suspend logic and enjoy the film for what it is —corny, enthralling and socially conscious cinema.

53 Another Day of Life (2019, dir. Raúl de la Fuente & Damian Nenow)

The Angolan Civil War was a vicious conflict between a divided Portuguese colony and proxy superpowers. Raúl de la Fuente & Damian Nenow interest weren’t only to depict the horrors of this war but to express an unapologetic dissent of any armed conflict. Another Day of Life struggles to execute its exploration of the Angolan Civil War at some parts but still manages to express its strong anti-war stance through a unique blend of animation and live-action documentary footage.

52 The Villainess (2017, dir. Jeong Byeong-Gil)

I can’t get enough of Korean cinema this decade. The Villainess’ long-take fight scenes were absolutely enthralling and such a counter-product of the poorly choreographed action sequences we’ve grown accustomed to in dominant cinema.  

51 Color Adjustment (1992, dir. Marlon Riggs)

Marlon Riggs effortlessly arranges archival footage and interviews to investigate the representation of the Black image in television across several decades. Riggs parallels the on screen struggle with the real-life struggle of the civil rights movements showcasing how the images of the former were heavily influenced and in response to the nation’s dissent towards protesting Black-Americans. Although released in 1992, Color Adjustment’s discourse on cinematic Black representation and daily oppression of Black-Americans seems as though he’s speaking to audiences today. It may be a testament to how timeless of a documentary it is or just how little society has progressed in nearly three decades.

50 My Lucky Stars (1985, dir. Sammo Hung)

 I don’t even remember the plot of My Lucky Stars at all. A young Jackie Chan and a hilarious supporting cast made this movie for me. 

49 Terminator (1984, dir. James Cameron)

I can’t believe I hadn’t watched The Terminator until this year, or last I should say now. Cameron’s 80s classic is a solid action flick .

48 Hustlers (Hustlers (2019, dir. Lorene Scafaria)

Hustlers is unapologetic in its criticism towards white collar crime and the patriarchal dominance of Wall Street. It ranked 78 on my favorite films of the decade, but sits at a comfortable 48 for my favorite films I watched last year. 

47 Widows (2018, dir. Steve McQueen)

If I had watched Widows prior to the making of my top 100 of the decade list it would undoubtedly sit somewhere in the high 70s or 80s. While Widows isn’t always perfect, certain scenes from this star studded ensemble cast truly elevate McQueen’s script to an award winning level. This was easily the biggest snub of last year. 

46 X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019, dir. Simon Kinberg)

My deep bias for the X-Men places the objectively mediocre Dark Phoenix at 46 much above a lot of the other better listed preceding films. 

45 John Wick 3: Parabellum (2019, dir. Chad Stahelski)

The John Wick franchise gets better with each installment. While the story could have been slightly tighter, the work of Parabellum’s stunt teams and second unit directors completely elevates this film to a tier much above its action flick contemporaries. 

44 Avengers: Endgame (2019, dir. The Russo Brothers)

Endgame is far from my favourite MCU project. From an objective standpoint, it hardly stands as the studio’s best work but is certainly their most ambitious.  Endgame doesn’t quite surpass its ultra-tight knight, action filled predecessor Infinity War, but does pack the hardest emotional punch a superhero film has ever swung at me. 

43 Black History: Lost, Stolen, or Strayed (1968, writt. Andrew Rooney & Perry Wolf)

Black History features a young Bill Cosby who details the accomplishments of dozens of Black-Americans whose contributions to society have been largely overlooked by the textbooks. It’s also a fascinating exploration of the negative depictions of Black-Americans which had then, and still, plague U.S. cinematic history. 

42 All Orientals Look the Same (1987, dir. Valerie Soe)

Race in Hollywood has always been incredibly black and white. Quite literally, whiteness has dominated the silver screen while blackness, although frequently misrepresented, existed in the background of U.S. cinema. All Orientals Look the Same was sadly my first true academic text I faced which explored the misrepresentations of Asians in Hollywood cinema in detail. Since watching this film earlier this year, I’ve made it a point not only to watch the many films it critiques but to educate myself further on how it was the Asian-American was completely designed on the screen. 

41 Ethnic Notions (1986, dir. Marlon Riggs)

Similar to the previous documentaries, Ethnic Notions is concerned with the popular representations of disenfranchised groups. Marlon Riggs forefronts the dominant images of African-Americans which faced white America throughout the post civil war era and beyond. It’s an eye opening doc which reveals how and where the many stereotypes of Black communities stem from. Riggs’ film may have been lost in the past, but its importance is timeless. I highlight and place his work at number 41 in attempt at repourpalizing, even to the smallest degree, a truly emancipating piece of cinematic text. 

40 Eighth Grade (2018, dir. Bo Burnham)

Burnham’s Eight Grade is an innocent, cringey and timeless peer into the world of middle school. Beyond that, Burnham’s film is painly relatable for most audiences who were likely on the lower tier of “popularity” when they were once our lead protoganists’ age. My biggest quarrel with Eight Grade is perhaps its R-rating which may steer younger audiences away from the film. Itss themes on what it means to be “cool”, finding oneself, fitting in, and even bullying are crucial for all students around Kayla’s age group to hear. 

39 Shirkers (2018, dir. Sandi Tan)

Shirker’s Scooby-Doo like premise, which I mean in a positive light, follows the mysterious disappearance of a small group of student’s 16mm film which they entrusted into their mentor George. Both George and Shirkers, the name of their film, went missing and were never seen again. Tan’s documentary slowly peels back information, pushing audiences to become detectives themselves, until providing answers, to some degree, of the mystery. Out of the incredible catalog of documentaries I viewed last year, Shrikers is easily one of my favourits on this list.  

38 The Wolf of Wall Street (2013, dir. Martin Scorsese)

I first watched Wolf of Wall Street at the mindless age of 15. I, of course, didn’t get it. I watched it on the plane in late December and finally grasped the commentary Martin Scorsese’s pure acid trip was attempting to share. It wasn’t glorifying the excess of Wall Street but heavily critiquing and even poking fun at America’s largest white-collar criminals. To say I love Wolf of Wall Street is a little awkward, but it certainly stands as one Scorsese’s best work to date. 

37 Joker (2019, dir. Todd Phillips)

I’m hoping to write a “Joker Re-visited” article to 1) underscore this film’s brilliance and 2) explicitly speak to its many dissidents who label Todd Phillips reimagining of the prince of crime as a glorification of gun violence and sympathizer to incel violence. Stay tuned. 

36 Mrs. Doubtfire (1993, dir. Chris Columbus)

I love anything Robin Williams Touches. 

35 Once Upon A Time in Hollywood (2019, dir. Quentin Tarantino)

Not my favourite Tarantino film by a long shot, and I hope to update my ranked list soon, but  definitely some of his best work. Once Upon A Time in Hollywood basically has no plot but of course Tarantino finds a way for audiences to be engrossed in his characters through sharp dialogue, an amazing soundtrack and jaw-dropping recreation of late 60s Hollywood. 

34 The Death of Stalin (2017, dir. Armando Iannucci)

The appeal encircling this film came and went. I’ll try to bring it back, to the most microscopic degree, by saying The Death of Stalin is one of the best films I watched last year and one of the best comedies of this past decade.

33 Roma (2018, dir. Alfonso Cuarón)

It’s all been said before. Everything that needs to be said about Yalitza Aparicio, Alfonso Cuarón and Roma has already been said before. This movie is beautiful.

32 Us (2019, dir. Jordan Peele)

Jordan Peele’s sophomore feature not only surpassed Get Out but already solidified him as a potential auteur of our times — and U.S. cinema needs someone of that caliber in these times for sure. Horror has seen a renaissance this decade and Peele’s Us is very much a leading force in the march. 

31 The Irishman (2019, dir. Martin Scorsese)

Scorsese, DeNiro, Pacino, and Pesci. Was it going to be bad?

30 The Last Black in San Francisco (2019, dir. Joe Talbot)

I wish I had the chance to see The Last Black Man in theaters. Director Joe Talbot and cinematographer Adam Newport-Berra capture the beauty and essence of a city better than any other film in recent memory.

29 Rosemary’s Baby (1968, dir. Roman Polanski)

I see why Rosemary’s Baby is hailed as such a horror classic. Many contemporary horror films not only pay homage to Roman Polanski’s but down right have stolen the film’s entire premise. Palanski’s classic is indisputably the foundation, amongst many other titles, of modern horror. Sad to say it took me so long to watch .

28 The Farewell (2019, dir. Lulu Wang)

Writer/director Lulu Wang and lead actor Awkwafina shine in The Farewell. This is one of many films on this list where I bawled. The Farewell was one of 2019’s most heartfelt stories and, in just a single watch, has become one of my favourite films in recent memory. 

27 Midsommar (2019, dir. Ari Aster)

Somehow Ari Aster followed up his immediate cult-classic Hereditary in the most unique way possible. I can’t say Midsommar is better than its predecessor nor can I say it’s worse. It’s a genre-fluid, nightmare transpiring in the middle of the daytime. While I’ll need several more rewatches to fully determine my opinions of the films, I can safely say Aster’s Midsommar as still one of my favourite films of the last year. 

26 Furie (2019, dir. Le-Van Kiet)

Mom of the year award goes to Hai Phuong. 

25 Good Time (2017, dir. The Safdie Brothers)

I wish I saw Uncut Gems last year, but the Safdie-Pattinson maniacal ride of Good Time will have to suffice for now. 

24 Zombi Child (2019, dir. Bertrand Bonello)

This list doesn’t add up at all. Some films here are ranked higher than other films on my favourite 100 films of the decade list. But as I stressed in that post, I hate making ranked lists because my love for particular movies oscillates every day. The ultra-violent Zombi Child may have only been 81 on my last list, but confidently resides at 24 here. 

23 BlacKkKlansman (2018, dir. Spike Lee)

My top films of the decade explanation behind BlackKlansman perfectly sums up the power of Lee’s film: For film goers who know of Birth of A Nation, they’d understand that Lee includes D.W. Griffith’s 1915 epic at the start of his film to consciously remind audiences of its infamous use of cross-cutting. In Griffith’s film it was tirelessly used to depict Black people negatively, Lee, however uses the editing device as a tool of empowerment to the Black image. BlackKlansman is thus revolutionary cinema both in its content , which is incredibly pertinent to our modern-day police climate, and its form. From its first to last frame, viewers are treated to a master at work.

22 Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018, dir. Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti & Rodney Rothman)

What else can I say that hasn’t been said. Spider-Verse is the best Spider-Man film of all time. 

21 Gook (2017, dir Justin Chon)

Hollywood is incredibly Black and White. Quite literally, Whiteness dominates the silver screen while blackness, although not regularly in the hands of its people, is sidelined. Justin Chon’s Gook attempted to eradicate Hollywood’s race binary in his inter-sectional and honest examination of a racial conflict between lower-income Korean-Americans and Black Americas in 1992 L.A. Gook is reminiscent of Mathieu Kassovitz La Haine in its unbiased and raw peer into the lives of young adults in an urban city space. Unfortunately, Chon’s film probably will never see the same praise as La Haine because it’s, frankly, far above the dominant understanding of culture in America today. It may seem as though it paints Black-Americans in a stereotypical gangster role and posits Korean-Americans as “white-saviors”. But the film calls for much more textual reading than what lies on the surface, and the casual American viewer just doesn’t seem ready to think about the film in an intricate manner just yet.

20 If Beale Street Could Talk (2018, dir. Barry Jenkins)

Barry Jenkins is a master in my book. 

19 Minding the Gap (2018, dir. Bing Liu)

I want more from Bing Liu. It’s unbelievable that Minding the Gap is the first project the young filmmaker has helmed. Liu’s examination of poverty, familial strife and his reminiscent gaze of forgotten skateboard culture is masterful and painful at once. Minding the Gap is angry, pensive, answerless and at the same time at therapeutic experience for Liu, his subjects and audience members altogether.

18 Burning (2018, dir. Lee Chang-dong)

I don’t know why Burning was ranked so low on my decade list. Lee Chang-dong’s film is, yes, painfully slow but always asking captivating —but only if you let it be. Scene by scene, Chang-dong pulls back his films seeming mystery to viewers until its revealed, not even too explicitly, where he might have been directing the story in its last moments. 

17 Okja (2017, dir. Bong Joon-Ho)

Bong Joon-Ho can do no wrong. Okja is a beautiful tale about the mass-production and consumption of meat, our seemingly long forgotten relationship with nature and animals, and, as corny as it sounds, friendship. It’s an on-the-nose criticism of the ills of the food industry under profit-driven rule handled by an auteur who explores the deprecating nature of capitalism as intricately as any contemporary director.

16 The Wailing (2016, dir. Na Hong-jin)

I can’t get enough of the new Korean Wave. The Wailing is simply the horror film of its time. My friend recommended it as “the most unique film I [he] ever saw” and he wasn’t overselling. In an age where every nearly every popular film is unoriginal and uninspired, The Wailing, which exists completely of the casual film goers radar, is so refreshing. 

15 Cold War (2018, dir. Paweł Pawlikowski)

Paweł Pawlikowski’s Cold War is cinema in its purest form. All elements of the form perfectly collide to tell a gripping inter-decade and cross-national love story of a couple living in the U.S.S.R. 

14 Suspiria (1977, dir. Dario Argento)

Dario Argento’s Suspiria is unparalleled in the world of horror. Argento’s classic is a pure hellish nightmare told in a starkly unnatural polychromatic universe. Everything about Suspiria is jarring. The editing and camera work is disorienting, the abstract color scheme and unwordly soundscape also combine to make the most ultimate over sensory experience. There are no films in the genre, and practically ever, which parallels Argento’s hellish nightmare.

13 Carrie (1977, dir. Brian De Palma)

I loved Carrie far more than I thought. The diopter shot was never as intriguing to me until Brian DePalma showcased its visual storytelling ability and unique look effortlessly in this horror classic. Beyond that, Carrie, played by a young Sissy Spacek, is an incredibly likeable character. The real monsters of the film are her mother and the “popular” teens of her high school. Carrie’s descent to “evil”, which wasn’t too sinister to me, is a righteous turn provided all the trauma she endures throughout the film. DePalma’s film works for me up until its last seconds where he chooses to close on a subject which seemingly had no correlation to the grander scheme of things. Still, one frame can’t ruin this masterpiece for me. 

12 Suspiria (2018, dir. Luca Guadagnino)

Mia Goth as Sara and Dakota Johnson as Susie star in Suspiria

Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria remake might be better than the original. While Argento’s is brimming with life both visually and in its score, 2018’s Suspiria is drained of all color. The entire film features monochromatic tints of brown, greens, and greys and wastes no time delving into the hellish atmosphere of Helena Markos Dance Company. Guadagnino’s film clears up some of the questions encircling the supreme mothers and even expands on the original’s mythos. While it probably will take years for this remake to garner the respect it deserves,  it is with a doubt one of the strongest and most unique remakings of a film I have ever scene.

11 Marriage Story (2019, dir. Noah Baumbach)

I can’t add anything with repeating the popular consensus. Johansson and Driver shine as does Noah Baumbach’s script. 

10 The Lighthouse (2019, dir. Robert Eggers)

Robbert Eggers’ The Lighthouse feels like the main course to his appetizing feature-length directorial debut The Witch. While his first film fully reveals its crazy in the last act, The Lighthouse is pure insanity from the first wail of the phallic structure. The Lighthouse looks and feels as though it emerged from a European neo-realist movement, was lost, then resubmerged and distributed across modern theaters. It’s completely removed from its time. A cinematic masterpiece showcasing a to be auteur and two of the biggest talents at work today.

9 Shoplifters (2018, dir. Hirokazu Koreeda)

Many of the films on this list are extremely class conscious. That might be telling of my own tastes or just how troubling of a moment individuals are subject to in late-stage capitalist societies across the world. Hirokazu Koreeda codes this commentary behind a warming dynamic between an impoverished family practically living in the shadows. In 2-hours we fall in love with every cast member and slowly Koreeda rips them from our grasps, as well as their own fantasies, and thrusts them into the rigid reality of a heartless class divided society.

8 Parasite (2019, dir. Bong Joon-Ho)

Parasite was the film of last year. Although very niche elements of the film are created with a Korean audience in mind, Parasite’s themes of class war and the vast inequality capitalistic society perpetuates are near universal. We are all, to paraphrase the words of director Bong Joon-Ho, living in one country known as capitalism and this reality is candidly expressed in his possible magnum-opus.

7 Rashomon (1950, dir. Akira Kurosawa)

To have waited so long to view a Kurosawa film was a much admitted crime. Rashomon, and the Japanese master’s entire filmography for that matter, are some of the most influential cinematic works ever put to the screen. Traces of this rather simple story following various perspectives of a murder are present in an innumerable amount of films. The Last Jedi, Usual Suspects, the bulk of Tarantino’s Work, Zhang Yimou’s Hero, Shutter Island are all, to some degree, borrowing from Rashomon. It’s timeless work crafted by a director whose influence on the form will never seize. 

6 The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1979, dir. Lau Kar-leung)

This is the action-hero film at its best. The heart of The 36th Chamber of Shaolin is Liu’s training. For most of the second act, the film is a well-edited montage featuring the young disciple training to become a kung-fu master. It is, for lack of a better word, awesome, jaw-dropping and spiritually insightful filmmaking.  

5 Incendies (2010, dir. Denis Villenueve)

Incendies is an inter-decade, cross-national drama about a mother, from an unnamed fictional Middle-Eastern country, who immigrates to Canada and raises her two kids. The film cuts back and forth from present day to the mother’s past slowly revealing the startling parentage of her children and the hardships she faced to leave the country. Incendies never unveils too much information until it’s last brilliantly edited montage sequence which beautifully intertwines the numerous storylines across time with one another . 

4 Synecdoche New York (2008, dir. Charlie Kaufman)

I am much too young to fully grasp how writer/director Charlie Kaufman depicts the monotonous tone of life in his genius work Synecdoche, New York. Depressed protagonist Caden, played by nothing short of a brilliant Phillip Seymour Hoffman, is used as tool in his diegetic world, and the several others he creates, and as a tool for Kaufman. Caden is the mirror Kaufman viciously reflects in front of the viewers gaze. It is through him, and the aimless and equally depressed people around him, audiences are spoon-fed—which is not a deterrent to the film—just how pointless and depressing life can be in our post-modern world. Caden, who is slowly dying of nothing in particular but life itself, tries to find an escape by rebuilding a model of New York inside a courtyard where several other models of New York exist inside each other. Like him, we may seek refuge and escape in Synecdoche, or other films, but our finite time in these fabricated worlds are never enough to fully heal us.  

There is absolutely no happiness in Synecdoche, and thus our world, but this reality is precisely why I love the film so much. Kaufman, inadvertently, encouraged me to find happiness in this world by thrusting what my future may potentially be in Caden. It’s dark, yet beautiful at the same time. My reading is subject to change with age, and I hope to revisit this film not as Caden the withering man but as Caden the hopeful creator. 

3 Taxi Driver (1976, dir. Martin Scorsese)

Young Scorsese and DeNiro coupled with the iconic work of composer Bernard Hermann. Taxi Driver is a timeless piece of cinema. It’s certainly not ahistorical work, but the isolation and loneliness of Travis Bickle, portrayed by DeNiro at some of his best, is pertinent across time. His distrust in elected officials, his anger with the decaying world around him and how the people in power do nothing is a near universal sensation across time. Scorsese does his best for audiences to empathize with Travis at some degree but then challenges us to find the point where he has gone too far ino his own ideology. Needless to say Scorsese evaluates the psyche of a deprecating man in the most cinematic way possible. The camera is near sentient in its relationship with Travis and his emotions. Painstakingly long-shots capture Travis at his most vulnerable positioning viewers very close to his actions and mental-condition. Like Synecdoche, there is absolutely nothing enjoyable in Taxi Driver’s themes but it’s in the manner Scorsese unpacks his commentary which begets a deep appreciation for the crafting of the film .

2 Léon: The Professional (1993, dir. Luc Besson)

My love for film this year transformed into a passion for cinema. In 2019, I think I understood the difference quite fully through works such as Luc Besson’s The Professional. This film is nowhere near the tiers of Taxi Driver, Rashomon or even Brian DePalma’s Carrie. Frankly, it’s not a cinematic masterpiece but undoubtedly a piece of work which is completely against the grain of popular film. First in its uncanny love story between Léon and Mathilda and even in Besson’s direction. Their is a style, or stylo even, which Besson creates this film which is otherwise absent in the dominant cinema released during the time of The Professional’s release and, unfortunately, still today. The Professional is cinema to me not for the critical or theoretical works which discuss it but because I fell in love with it. 

1 City of God (2002, dir. Fernando Meirelles & Kátia Lund)

Cidade de Deus, as it is known in Portuguese, is now one of my favourite films of all time. I might hesitate to say the same for the last 5 films, 10 even, but the work of directors Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund touched my soul unlike any other film on this list. Strangely, Cidade is not at all a seductive film. In fact it’s a raw and ruthless peer into Brazilian street life which carriers in immense amount of emotional baggage. This is a story of childhood, of poverty, of violence, of adolescence, of love for others and for a passion. Although such a message was not inherent to the narrative, and I credit the magical workings of cinema’s to influence me in such a way,  I will always mark Cidade de Deus as a benchmark film which further propelled my love for the form we call cinema. 

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