Biopics, science fiction, animation, a murder mystery, a literary classic, period dramas and a horror flick — here are my 10 best movies of 2019. Perhaps you saw them at our local cinema, where I did. They’re listed alphabetically.
“Ad Astra” means “to the stars,” where astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) searches for his astronaut father, lost 21 years earlier. It’s compelling science fiction, but only partly action/adventure. The film’s strong inward focus is stoic Roy’s broken relationship with his distant father, played by Tommy Lee Jones. You’ll want to talk about this film afterwards — always a good sign.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Amazing Tom Hanks is television’s “Mr. Rogers,” whose real-life friendship with troubled journalist, Tom Junod (Matthew Rhys), is the subject of this “message film.” Hanks’ convincing performance makes Fred Rogers more than just a TV character. He’s an interesting, sometimes quirky, real person. A gentle film, it’ll make you think seriously about yourself. That’s the takeaway.
Ford v Ferrari
Matt Damon and Christian Bale have good chemistry in this true-life race-car saga, set at Le Mans in the 1960s. It’s fast-moving (like the Ford GT40 Bale drives), and loaded with verbal zingers. Damon is car designer, Carroll Shelby; Bale, British driver, Ken Miles. Their rocky but genuine collaboration is at the heart of the film. You’ll root for the good guys. Do they win?
In biopic “Harriet,” enslaved Araminta Ross becomes “Harriet Tubman” or, as she was often called, “Moses” — and sometimes, “Slave Stealer.” Working with the Underground Railroad and, during the war, with the Union Army, Tubman brought hundreds of slaves North to freedom. Cynthia Erivo is heroic and impassioned in the title role. Tubman’s story is one we all need to know.
If you believe they don’t make movies like they used to, watch “Knives Out,” an old-fashioned murder mystery in which everyone in wealthy Harlen Thrombey’s (Christopher Plummer) unhappy family has a motive and is a suspect in his death. The questions are: Was it suicide — or murder? Can soft-spoken, private detective, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), solve this engrossing whodunit? See it for answers.
Louisa May Alcott’s American novel, set in mid-19th century, tells the coming-of-age stories of the four March sisters. Smartly written and directed by Greta Gerwig, it’s a first-rate adaptation of Alcott’s classic. Saoirse Ronan is eldest daughter Jo, who aspires to be a writer. Ronan is best in the part since Katherine Hepburn in Hollywood’s first “Little Women” (1933). Laura Dern and Meryl Streep are also excellent as “Marmee” and Aunt March.
“1917” is an extraordinary World War I drama, closely following two young British soldiers who cross the French Western Front on a dangerous, life-saving mission. George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman are the soldiers. Others in the cast include Colin Firth and Benedict Cumberbatch. “1917” has the look of a single, continuous travelling shot, thanks to Roger Deakins’ audacious cinematography. My pick, if I had an Oscar vote, for “Best Picture.”
Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood
“Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” is a movie-lover’s movie. Long, episodic and — at least for the first two hours — leisurely, it follows close friends, actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), on a February weekend in 1969. OUATIH is director/writer Quentin Tarantino’s love letter to 1960s Hollywood. His entertaining film reminds us: “You’re watching a movie; isn’t this fun!”
Toy Story 4
“Toy Story 4” is everything you expect from an animated Pixar flick, especially if you’re a fan like me — lots of laughs and action, colorful, funny and cute characters, and more than a few moments of heart. At its emotional center is a simple sentiment — “the most noble thing a toy can do is be there for the kid who loves it.” Voice cast includes Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, et al. You won’t want “Toy Story 4” to be over. I didn’t.
“Us” is scary and requires full attention as director/writer Jordan Peele’s 2017 Oscar-winning “Get Out” did. Lupita Nyong’o is Adelaide who, with her husband Gabe (Winston Duke) and children, are at their California lakeside summer house. Over-night, four zombie-like doppelgangers invade the house and terrorize the family. Who are the doubles? What do they want? For answers, watch “Us,” best horror film I’ve seen in a long time.