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Hooray for the Troublemakers

The 10 best movies of 2019, and more.

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We can see where Scorsese and screenwriter Steven Zailian wanted to go with Frank Sheeran's confessions, but the era dwarfs that dull, methodical working stiff as surely as it does the wise guys and union bosses who called the shots. That said, even a slightly lacking film by Scorsese is better than 95 percent of the stuff that cycles through the multiplexes and smart TV hookups every year. If you care about the medium of film and have not yet seen The Irishman, you owe it to yourself to see it, and join the conversation.

Too Hot For TV

Without Scorsese there would have been no Tarantino. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has at least one thing in common with The Irishman. It's a loaded-to-the-gills farewell to a dearly beloved yet intensely hated, wildly violent era of All-American excess and lawlessness. With his prototypical "old man's picture," Scorsese is paying tribute to Anthony Mann, Don Siegel, Phil Karlson, André De Toth, Richard Fleischer, and all the rest of the too-hot-for-television nights at the movies of his youth. With Quentin Tarantino, the touchstones are closer to Wes Craven, Russ Meyer, George Romero, John Carpenter, Lucio Fulci, Ringo Lam, Monte Hellman, and, naturally, Scorsese himself, with Josh and Benny, the upstart Safdie brothers from Queens, thrown in for good measure as part of the next generation — the Safdies' Uncut Gems is another gleaming facet of 2019, just maybe the most subversive of all.

Six of our Top 10 are crime stories. The Irishman takes place in mafia-land. Todd Phillips' Joker is about a man who becomes unhinged by his backstory and turns his front story into a vigilante-style crusade against arrogant bullies. In Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, a make-believe gunman and his hella-believable roughneck stunt double rewrite history by wiping out the perpetrators of one of the 20th century's most heinous multiple murders, before the bad guys can actually do it. Class warfare blends into a confidence racket in Bong Joon-ho's Parasite. Melina Matsoukas' Queen & Slim looks at police brutality and society's open season on African Americans through the lens of a mythical pair of young adults who would rather fall in love than shoot and run, but aren't afraid to do both. The antihero of Josh and Benny Safdie's ultra-noirish Uncut Gems is an antsy jeweler with a massive gambling monkey on his back, and how his life spirals even more out of control over a rock smuggled out of Ethiopia.

If we were to factor in the view that World Wars I and II were essentially crimes against humanity — especially in the case of Hitler — and, that what is done to a pair of lifelong Black buddies trying to daydream their way out of a toxic-waste-contaminated corner of the Bay Area constitutes an offense against civil rights, Sam Mendes' 1917, Taika Waititi's Jojo Rabbit, and Joe Talbot's The Last Black Man in San Francisco could be added to the crime folder as well.

That leaves one lone piece, Karim Aïnouz's Invisible Life, to stand as the only film not overtly concerned with illegal activity. However, look at the characters. Guida (Julia Stockler) is banished from her family and has to resort to a life of scuffling on account of a romantic misstep; her sister Euridice (Carol Duarte) is led to believe that Guida lives far away instead of close by, in their hometown of Rio de Janeiro, because, well, just because that's the way things go in her family. More about Aïnouz's Brazilian masterpiece in our long review on January 1.

For a Few Dollars More

The films we tended to love this year "upended everything," to use Maître Langlois' phrase. But there are more troublemaking movies bubbling under the Top 10. Here's a quick list of titles worth looking at. In any other year some of them might have made the top echelon. In no particular order:

Jordan Peele's Us; Richard Linklater's Where'd You Go Bernadette; Craig Brewer's Dolemite Is My Name; Jonathan Levine's Long Shot; Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's Never Look Away (Werk ohne Autor); Pedro Almodóvar's Pain and Glory (Dolor y Gloria); James Mangold's Ford v Ferrari; Nadav Lapid's Synonyms (Synonymes); Rian Johnson's Knives Out; Mike Flanagan's Doctor Sleep; Edward Norton's Motherless Brooklyn; Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story; Jay Roach's Bombshell; Terrence Malick's A Hidden Life; Clint Eastwood's Richard Jewell; Olivier Assayas' Non-Fiction (Doubles Vies); Tom Harper's The Aeronauts; Ladj Ly's Les Misérables; Mati Diop's Atlantics (Atlantique); Marco Bellochio's The Traitor (Il Traditore); Joanna Hogg's The Souvenir; Greta Gerwig's Little Women (long-reviewed in this issue); Justin Chon's Ms. Purple; Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz's The Peanut Butter Falcon; Marielle Heller's A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood; Paolo Sorrentino's Loro; Michael Engler's Downton Abbey; Alexandre Moratto's Socrates; Fernando Meirelles' The Two Popes; Kasi Lemmons' Harriet; Paul Downs Colaizzo's remarkable Brittany Runs a Marathon, with an attention-grabbing performance by Jillian Bell; and, the most striking animated feature of the year, Milorad Krstic's art-world spy yarn Ruben Brandt, Collector.

Two of the very finest documentaries of this or any year were released late in 2018 but didn't fully register on Bay Area screens until 2019. No doc fan should miss Peter Jackson's They Shall Not Grow Old, perhaps the last word on World War I (and a fitting double feature partner for 1917); or Jean-Luc Godard's The Image Book (Le livre d'image), the Nouvelle Vague master's densely referential, stream-of-consciousness "history of film" — if such a thing can possibly exist in one-stop form.

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