I like to say that film appreciation is akin to wine appreciation. I can’t tell you what your favorite wine will be as it’s a matter of so much more than just palate. You judge things by bringing your experiences, your emotions, your predilection for what’s new as opposed to tried and true. My favorite films of 2019 are ones released this year that I managed to see, and leaves out many smaller films that are getting a 2020 release. Living in the mountains also limits what films I can get to, especially since we no longer have a movie theater in Telluride as the Nugget is closed for construction.
A LADY ON FIRE’
At once moving and mysterious, “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” has a wonderful soundtrack, gorgeous cinematography and an unusual love story. An 18th century French portrait painter must paint a young woman’s image without her knowledge, and when romance blossoms, she must use her talent knowing she will lose her lover to another. A sublime romance, French writer/director Céline Sciamma won the Best Screenplay award at Cannes. It is a gorgeous film, and the haunting images will linger in your mind.
Director and writer Lulu Wang won accolades for her touching, personal film. “The Farewell” was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and won Audience Favorite. The emotional story follows a Chinese American family traveling from America for a fake wedding. The immediate family has decided to hide the truth about the family matriarch’s diagnosis, and the wedding is an excuse for everyone to say goodbye. Awkwafina is perfectly cast as the American daughter straddling two cultures, as she plays a stand-in for the director. “The Farewell” is based on a true story about Wang’s family, which the director first shared as a story in a 2016 episode of This American Life. The film poster reads, “Based on an actual lie.” It was released early in 2019, and I worry that people will forget this gem of a film.
You may not be transported to outer space, but “Rocketman” (Dexter Fletcher) is sure to make your spirit soar. It’s such a pleasure to see a film with a killer soundtrack, amazing performances, and costumes that make you want to dig out your platform shoes and join the fun. Yes, there are some dark moments in this Elton John biopic, as there’s no sugarcoating depression and suicide. I loved the way the story is told through flashbacks from a counseling session at an addiction facility. It’s nice to see a tale of triumph as opposed to a rock star biography that ends in death. Taron Edgerton does all his own singing, and Elton John has applauded his performance. I hope Edgerton gets an Oscar nomination.
‘QUEEN & SLIM’
An amazing directorial debut from Grammy award winner Melina Matsoukas. Her skill directing music videos like Beyonce’s “Formation” was likely good training for this powerful film of a couple on the run. Daniel Ka luuya (“Get Out”) and Jodie Turner-Smith navigate an awkward first date that ends tragically and forces them to flee the country. Days spent on the lam bring an intimacy to their relationship, and Matsoukas’ use of voice over to share their thoughts adds so much to this nuanced tale. A drama that seems like a documentary, this is an important film.
There have been many versions, both stage and screen adaptations, of Louisa May Aldocott’s beloved novel, but director Greta Gerwig’s is the definitive version. A perfect melding of a superb cast, a screenplay that does justice to Aldocott’s intention (she never wanted her lead, Jo March, to marry) and intimate cinematography that makes the March house a character in the film. A period drama that is both funny and touching and allows each of the March girls a voice, this film is both charming and a feminist retelling.