It’s that time of year when yours truly unveils his list of favorite things in film. As of this moment, I am formally retiring my “Best of” lists and rebranding under the less consequential, “Favorites.” I’m tired of getting into spats about which films were the best, worst, overrated, etc. I’ve reached my limit as far as pretentiousness and outrage, and it was 2019.
This past year was another one for the books. I was genuinely surprised by what entertained me, some in unexpected and others in truly unsettling ways. I give you my list of favorite movie moments of 2019. I don’t know if this is a precursor to my eventual list of favorite films; some moments in certain movies spoke louder to me more than others. It’s a varied bunch to say the least. Rejoice or rebuke this year in film, I was never bored. These were the movie moments that delighted me.
10. JOHN WICK 3: PARABELLUM – Continental lobby shootoutNo other action movie satisfied my bloodlust quite like Parabellum. Not many action films dare to venture into overkill territory (The Raid duology comes to mind), but where others are timid, John Wick doesn’t hesitate to shoot goons in the head twice. The Continental lobby sequence is the series’ pièce de résistance as far as shootouts go, Baba Yaga coming in full form as he relentlessly clears house, sometimes unloading entire clips into individual baddies in gloriously over-the-top fashion. It’s a violent and loving ode to John Woo while sporting a green color spectrum that pays tribute to another iconic lobby shootout. Action junkies look no further, Parabellum is nirvana.
9. DOCTOR SLEEP – The One Where Jacob Tremblay Gets DEREDRUMOkay, maybe “favorite” is the wrong word here. When Jacob Tremblay pops up in Doctor Sleep I was ready to applaud the film’s marketing for somehow concealing a lead role. I assumed Tremblay was written a role separate from the book and that he’d play a huge part in the story here on out. Boy was I wrong. Tremblay plays a little league prodigy and the next unfortunate victim of the True Knot. What director Mike Flanagan does is most impressive by not indulging in the gore or extreme, instead keeping the camera fixated on the actors involved in the same way Spielberg shot the opening kill in Jaws. (Imagination is a nightmarish tool.) Even in a bit part Tremblay is a powerhouse; he sells his demise arguably more than the cast of the True Knot (Rebecca Ferguson and the bunch were reportedly in tears after filming the scene, while Tremblay high-fived his dad and got some ice cream). An unforgettable horror movie kill. Months later, I still feel like I should go to jail for bearing witness.
8. THE IRISHMAN – Next Teller PleaseWhen Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance is all over the news and Frank Sheeran tells us it’s the last time his daughter Peggy spoke to him, he’s not lying. It’s the first AND last time we hear her speak. We revisit Peggy a couple scenes later, where, out of prison, Frank attempts to mend their relationship. At first I thought it was Frank’s helplessness I identified with, himself old and frail and just wants to reach out to his daughter. But I realize now it was Peggy’s anguish that’s felt. Anna Paquin’s lack of dialogue in the film accumulates in a brief but powerful look of resignation, one that expresses the quiet rage of seeing a father trying to repair a relationship that never existed. It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss it moment, but if you’ve been paying attention the whole time, the scene’s brevity is heartbreaking.
7. US – Meet RedJordan Peele crafted one of the most disturbing horror movie shots with Betty Gabriel’s monster-sized closeup in Get Out. Peele has done it again, once more with a single unnerving character. We meet the Tethered about 20 minutes into the movie and it’s one heck of frightful intro due in large part to Lupita Nyongo’s terrifyingly committed performance. The look, the posture, the eyes that never blink, and that blood-curling voice as Red takes us trotting down the rabbit hole of a fairy tale monologue. No matter how hard I try, I cannot get Red’s voice out of my head. This, frankly, is the stuff that should give Freddy Krueger nightmares.
6. MIDSOMMAR – The murder-suicideI cannot think of a more effective intro this year— let alone a more traumatic one than Ari Aster’s Midsommar. We meet Dani mid-spiral as she wrestles with a grave family situation. Like anyone feeling unbalanced, she just wants some comfort. Never mind that her bipolar sister made a vague threat toward their parents. But Dani’s boyfriend is finding excuses to not be there for her, and, as we listen, has been planning to break up with Dani. We are so emotionally vulnerable early on and nothing prepares us for the reveal of her sister’s murder-suicide. The score, too, does us no favors. The wail that comes out of Florence Pugh is so distressing, and Aster twists the knife further by the fact that Dani is finally being consoled— but by a boyfriend who’s emotionally obligated to do so. If Hereditary’s car accident perturbed me last year, then Midsommar’s carbon monoxide poisoning will fill me with dread every time I’m home by myself.
5. ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD – Sharon Tate goes to the moviesSharon Tate, played by the luminous Margot Robbie, lives like it’s 1969. She goes to parties at the Playboy Mansion, dances and paints the town whenever she feels like it. But it’s at the cinema where she’s shown as being the most present. Halfway through Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Tate goes to see one of her own films in theaters. She’s not instantly recognized at the booth and even hesitates to go at first, which is why it’s such a loving scene constructed; it’s not done for instant fame or praise, but for her own personal nourishment. This happens just as Rick Dalton is going through his own bumps and bruises in an industry that shows you the door when you least expect it. For Tate, the romance with the screen is very much intact as she basks in the anonymity of being a viewer. We are essentially watching ourselves, and Tate is a reflection of that unbridled joy of being at the movies.
4. MARRIAGE STORY – The fightCharlie and Nicole learn the hard way that there’s no such thing as an amicable divorce. After hiring lawyers, which they said they wouldn’t do, and their disagreements bleeding into their son’s life, which they also said they wouldn’t do, Charlie and Nicole find themselves reasonably frenzied by the bitter custody battle. Because they once loved each other and now they don’t and have to contend with a new reality where they’re not together as a family but can somehow coexist. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are devastating, because it’s clear that while they’re not IN love, there is still love and respect. Their pivotal fight scene is both upsetting and triggering, stirring memories of my own terrible fights and heartbreak, along with the repressed memories of seeing my own parents fight. I felt like a kid again in the worst way possible. This scene might’ve been meme’d long before I ever saw the movie, but nothing could detract from its raw impact.
3. TOY STORY 4 – Gabby finds her kid
We go through Toy Story 4 thinking Gabby Gabby is the villain, and that’s true two-thirds of the way. We find out, however, that she’s just a toy who never had a kid. Bo Peep may have been given away, but at least she had a kid in Andy. This stirs in Woody the same concern he felt for Bonnie on her first day of school spent alone. When Harmony, the kid Gabby Gabby had hoped would pick her, tosses her in that box… partner, my heart sobbed. But if that moment put a hole in my chest, then Gabby finding her playmate in a lost child at the fair inflated my heart whole again. It allowed this poor fool to share a tender handheld moment with his daughter in the theater that I’ll cherish forever. Gabby finally found her kid, and I am blessed to have mine.
2. THE FAREWELL – Bye bye, Nai NaiThe lie at the center of Lulu Wang’s The Farewell is both shocking and commonplace. After all, part of Asian culture (and sin) is to compartmentalize, to emotionally repress. So as much as I was infuriated by Billi and her family for lying to their grandmother Nai Nai, I was actually angry at myself and my family. Because we, too, elected to withhold further news of my grandmother’s condition. She was going to die so we wanted her to live, we rationalized. (Oh, the lies we tell ourselves.) Our knowledge and impulse to protect my grandma rendered us incapable of saying goodbye. We took those final months for granted, hoping that maybe she’d live after all— because what the hell does a doctor know when she’s alive and laughing and sitting right next to us. My grandma passed in 2010.
When Billi says goodbye to Nai Nai not knowing whether she’ll see her again, I wept. I grieved. As Billi looks on through the rear windshield, Nai Nai growing distant and blurry, it made me confront the goodbye that I never had with my grandma, because we loved her too much to let ourselves believe she might be gone from us one day. I hadn’t realized how deep those feelings and regrets were buried until this scene unearthed them. I was wrecked but, in the end, grateful to know that that grief wasn’t gone.
My one critic note for these Avengers films has always been, “Needs more assemble.” As in Captain America needs to puff his chest at the head of the vanguard and say the two words that have long been its own marvel in the comics. Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely heard our pleas and paid it forward in the most staggering superhero moment BY FAR, with composer Alan Silvestri coming through with that hair-raising score. Those of us who spent our childhoods crafting the biggest battle imaginable with our toys spread madly across the living room floor (much to our parents’ dismay), Endgame pays tribute to the kids in all of us as if to say we weren’t crazy, we were inspired. I’ll never forget opening night and the entire theater going APESHIT. My daughter to this day cannot fully articulate how utterly bananas it was to witness this epic resurrection and reformation of heroes, and I’m right there with her. Endgame’s assemble moment is pure cinematic awe in the form of capes and spandex and Chris Evans. Marvel made us earn Cap’s iconic line and my god they delivered. It doesn’t get any bigger than this.