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Starting from tem and working down to number one here are Niko’s picks and thoughts on the best films of 2019!

  • Uncut Gems

Director – Josh and Benny Safdie

Adam Sandler gives a powerful performance as this jewelry dealer/gambling addict who can’t help put constantly put everything at risk to chase his next rush. He’s not likeable or even redeemable, but Sandler’s innate charm comes through to help grasp you as you can’t look away from the train wreck that his life becomes. The supporting cast also comes through strong throughout Sandler’s working and family life as they deal with everything Sandler puts them through. Also the musical score utilized meditative and calming tones in contrast to the high anxiety of the film with surprisingly effective results, possibly intentionally to balance the audience out so that we don’t get too tense during the film.

  • Jojo Rabbit

Director – Taika Waititi

Taika Waititi combines effective satire with earnest emotional impacts. The film is funny, and the whole cast puts through solid performances. Especially impressive are the children actors who star in this film, who stand equally with powerhouses like Sam Rockwell who alone is worth the watch.

  • Dolemite is My Name

Director – Craig Brewer

This docudrama marks a return to stardom for comedy legend Eddie Murphy, and what a return it is. Sure, Murphy and the subject of Rudy Ray Moore are inherently funny, but Murphy nails the dramatic moments of concern and worry that Moore goes through in is struggle for success. This is the Murphy fans from the ‘80s and ‘90s have been waiting for.

  • Booksmart

Director – Olivia Wilde

This teen dramedy hits home for overachiever high schoolers everywhere. Olivia Wilde captures that teenage pre-graduation anxiety perfectly with a young cast that’s still close enough to that time to probably draw from their own experiences. Booksmart is a great addition to comedies about graduation and growing up, while bringing more weight to the topic than its peers often do without sacrificing the laughs.

  • Knives Out

Director – Rian Johnson

It’s been a while since we’ve had a fun murder mystery. Knives Out is a refreshing take on the Agatha Christie-style whodunit. Daniel Craig is a fun detective with a distinctive personality (and accent) and just smart enough that the crime gets solved with plenty of wrong turns throughout the way. With such a large ensemble cast of accomplished actors, it’s a shame that some don’t get more time. What time we do get is an entertaining romp.

  • Midsommar

Director – Ari Aster

Ari Aster perfects his slow burn and surreal horror that he did in his last firm Hereditary. Hereditary didn’t connect with me, mostly because I couldn’t connect with the characters who I found weak and nonsensical. Midsommar fixes that right off the bat. The film gives us a lead with a compelling reason for emotional sympathy, as well as a supporting cast that are selfish and asshole-ish enough that their grizzly endings bring a slight catharsis. Then there’s this foreign commune that presents a mystery of oddness that you can’t help but stick around to learn more about.

  • 1917

Director – Sam Mendes

Just in at the buzzer, which is good enough for me if it is for the Golden Globes. This is an intimate film. The techniques used to pull off the feel of a continuous shot puts us up close and personal with these two soldiers on a very timely mission. Their urgency and fear comes through as we follow along in every danger they face, and as we experience every war-torn landscape they traverse. The camera work is smooth and seamless. The action is in our faces and gripping. We’re as uncertain as the characters and are on the edge of our seats the whole movie, even in the few moments of quiet that gives us a chance to breathe.

  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Director – Quintin Tarantino

Can I qualify that this is specifically the 35mm version? I didn’t see a digital screening, but that film grain adds so much. Tarantino unsurprisingly loves old Hollywood, and it shows here in the historical and production detail as the 1960s (or at least the 1960s that we’d imagine) are expertly recreated. Pitt and DiCaprio are a great pair of believably close friends, both putting in excellent performances. For a film about the waning of Hollywood careers, they show that they’ve still got the chops.

  • Avengers: Endgame

Director – Anthony and Joe Russo

Wrapping up a franchise story is hard (glares at SW), let alone one that spans 22 movies and some of the highest-grossing films of all time. But Endgame does it. It helps having directors who are already embedded into the MCU as much as the Russos are (their fourth MCU film), as well as the ever-watchful eye of Kevin Feige. Endgame is able to take a victory lap around the whole MCU by way of time travel while still taking some bold steps forward with time jumps and character deaths. While the climactic battle may be too CGI-tactic for some, the film manages to spotlight its whole cast of heroes as they get to finally assemble to bring this chapter to a close. While there are still some lingering questions left, the only one that matters is “How can Marvel follow this up?”

  • Parasite BEST FILM OF 2019

Director – Bong Joon-ho

I’m still impressed with how this film weaves between genres. Parasite compares and contrasts a well-off family and a destitute one conning the first for work. It’s funny as we learn about their family’s skills and how they integrate themselves with this much better off family. We learn the issues within both families and how they are similar yet different. And then all that feel-good stuff goes out the window as a tense thriller takes over. No one is altruistic, yet everyone is sympathetic. You feel for everyone here, and the movie messes with those feelings in such a surprising way.