It’s time for me to put up my favorite movies of the last year. So here’s Darrel’s Dozen for 2019 (with a few bonuses at the end). This year I’ll only rank the top film; all the rest will be alphabetical. Links are to my reviews, unless noted.)
The #1 film for 2019 (according to me) is A Hidden Life. Terrence Malick uses his visually poetic storytelling to bring a story of deep faithfulness and commitment. He tells the story of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian conscientious objector during World War II. It is also a beautiful love story of Franz and his wife Fani. Much of the narrative is taken from the letters they wrote back and forth while Franz was imprisoned. The story focuses on what it means to be faithful to God and stand up to evil. It’s three hours long, but well worth the time.
The rest of the best:
Amazing Grace. Footage of a 1972 two-night gospel concert by Aretha Franklin. The footage was unusable for decades, but now we get to see this marvelous entertainer as she returned to the roots of her talent. How good was the concert? How often do you get to see Mick Jagger rocking out in a church pew?
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (reviewed by Steve Norton). A cynical reporter is assigned to do a piece on Fred Rogers. It transforms his life. Based on a true story, it reminds us of the beauty we can find in other people and ourselves. While many people think this is a movie about Mr. Rogers, keep in mind that Tom Hanks is considered a supporting actor in this film.
The Biggest Little Farm (reviewed by J. Alan Sharrer). A documentary about a Hollywood couple who want to build a sustainable farm (and life). There are lots of poblems along the way, but the results are uplifting. It is not just about growing food. It is about growing in harmony with the world around us.
By the Grace of God. A fictionalized version of a real-life scandal in the Catholic Church. A group of victims are not satisfied with the way the Bishop of Lyon has responded to issues of sexual abuse. They keep up the pressure until change is made. The real issue addressed in the film is how the institution, in seeking to protect itself, is really damaging itself.
Clemency. A prison warden who oversees executions must deal with the emotional and spiritual fallout of capital punishment. While she believes she is in control of her life, we see that in reality she is falling apart.
The Irishman (ScreenFish podcast). Martin Scorsese returns to the gangster genre with an epic story of a hitman, those he works for, and those he kills. It isn’t glamorous violence. It is the story of a man who has gained the wealth of the world, but loses his soul in the process.
Little Women. Greta Gerwig’s version of the Louisa May Alcott story of sisters and their journey to happiness. Although it is set in the eighteenth century, it has a very current feel for what it means to be a woman, especially a woman with ambitions beyond marriage. (Although it still affirms that as a way to happiness as well.)
Luce (reviewed by Julie Levac). It’s classified a thriller, but it’s a very thought-provoking one. It is about racial stereotyping from a very different perspective. A very intelligent black young man brings confusion to his black teacher and his white adoptive parents. Anger and violence is constantly just below the surface, but never truly erupts. But will it?
Parasite. Bong Joon-Ho’s exploration of the haves and have-nots in Korean culture. A mixture of comedy, tragedy, and horror, the film captured the Palme d’Or at Cannes. (That’s almost as good as making Darrel’s Dozen.)
Styx. The global immigration crisis becomes personal for a doctor on a solo sailing vacation. After a storm she discovers there is a stranded trawler filled with immigrants near her boat. She radios for help, but it never comes. How can she turn her back on dying people? How can the world?
Yesterday (reviewed by Steve Norton). A wonderfully enjoyable frolic in the music of the Beatles, but in a world in which the Beatles never happened.
And now for some bonus picks in special categories!
Something from a previous year that I just discovered this year: Dawson City: Frozen in Time. It’s a bit ironic that I didn’t see it when it came out because it’s a doc about the Yukon gold rush city that was the end of the line for movies in the early years of last century. Now they’ve found a treasure trove of unknown films. But it’s also about the life and trials of the gold rush days.
Best movie I hope you get a chance to see: Antigone (Canada’s official Oscar submission for Best International Feature Film). I give it this category because I saw this at AFI Fest, but as far as I can tell, it doesn’t have a theatrical release planned yet. It is an updated version of the Sophocles tragedy. An immigrant teenager hatches a plot to get her brother out of jail and ends up there herself. A story of the importance of family in difficult times.
Best TV binge of the year: Russian Doll. Think of it as an adult-only version of Groundhog Day. A young woman keeps dying and going back to a party, but each time there are minor changes. How does she break the cycle and move on with life (or death)?