It’s an unlikely recipe for a smash success; a pitch-black comedy from South Korea about class warfare. But watching Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” makes its success seem inevitable, because it’s just that undeniable. No language barrier can be a problem for a movie this entertaining.
No stranger to genre entertainments (he’s the man behind “Snowpiercer,” after all), Bong delivers the kind of nasty, wonderful thriller that Alfred Hitchcock would be proud of. It starts from a simple premise, a poor family needs money, and builds into some truly nightmarish territory. Bong also shares Hitchcock’s rigorous control over every element of the frame; the camera always in the right place, every character’s position on the set tells something about them, and any laugh is always ready to be followed by something traumatizing. “Parasite” has drawn many comparisons to Jordan Peele’s “Us,” and it might be even better at wringing every last bit of tension out of its premise.
There are many twists and turns in “Parasite” that one wouldn’t dare spoil for the uninitiated, but the biggest surprise ends up being that Bong isn’t merely viewing these characters like ants he’s burning with a magnifying glass. There’s real heartbreak here, especially when the ending delivers one of the more unexpected tearjerking moments of the year. Come for the brutally funny anti-capitalist screed, stay because you come to get invested in these people.
2. “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
Everyone was really surprised when learning about the release of Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” in August on both ends of the spectrum. For those who were super hyped, it had been his first release since “The Hateful Eight” and they were excited for more classic Tarantino. Those on the offensive learned about the plot of the movie and automatically thought the movie set out to glorify Charles Manson and the murders that took place under his command in the late ’60s. Though that’s a major component of what happens in the ending, saying that the entire movie was about a psychopath is far from the truth. “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” primarily focuses on the relationship between Rick Dalton, an actor portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio, and Cliff Booth, his stunt double played by Brad Pitt. Dalton struggles with accepting that he might not be relevant in ‘60s Hollywood as his peak was playing a spaghetti western hero on television in the ‘50s. While Dalton copes by drinking himself blind, at home and on-set, Booth stays by his side. Describing the ending was just “amazing” would be an understatement. Not only is it hilarious and badass, but the last few minutes literally change the course of history into something unexpectedly positive. And for those who have asked countless times…yes. It’s very apparent that Quentin Tarantino has a foot fetish that can be seen throughout the movie. That’s one of its only downsides besides the creative decision of keeping some of the scenes longer than they should’ve been.
3. “The Irishman”
“The Irishman” may not be for everyone, certainly not those looking for a fun date night movie or something to watch in the background. It’s filmmaking at its finest, made by a director with decades of experience and skill that he uses to fill every scene, every moment that drives the film forward and is a joy to watch. The length of the film may detract some, and those who prefer a happy ending may want to search elsewhere, but for those looking to be taken on a journey of brutality, betrayal and brilliant performances, give Martin Scorcese’s “The Irishman” a watch.
5. “Her Smell”
Elisabeth Moss’s best roles have largely come from TV shows like “Mad Men” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” rather than films. But this year, writer/director Alex Ross Perry gave her what might become the defining role of her career; self-destructive alt-rocker Becky Something, star of the unfortunately-named but brilliant “Her Smell.”
Becky Something is a cross between Courtney Love and Godzilla, running around in a drug-induced haze and destroying everyone in her path. Watching her in action is as stressful as it is entertaining, a feeling only amplified by the dingy, neon-lit cinematography and ominously humming soundtrack. In every aspect but bloodshed, this is a horror movie, and Becky quite often gives Leatherface a run for his money.
And yet, “Her Smell” is not just an exercise in making the audience uncomfortable. It has real empathy for Becky even at her lowest, and even more empathy for the people trying to help her even as she pushes them away. This could easily just be Moss’s show, but Perry lingers on the sad faces of her friends and makes their struggle moving, especially Agyness Deyn as Becky’s similarly drug-addicted bassist. There’s a moment when it’s revealed that their efforts weren’t pointless, that Becky is just as capable of change as anybody, and it’s a moment of such power that even the hardest times that came before it seem worth it.
6. “Marriage Story”
Divorce isn’t really a well-covered topic in movies, which a little weird considering it’s been shown that nearly half of married couples get a divorce nowadays. Netflix decided to take a stab at the subject matter through one of their new original movies, “Marriage Story”. They didn’t play around. Though the movie has only been available for streaming since the beginning of this month, it’s already made its spot onto other peoples’ lists for top movies of the year and has been nominated for several Golden Globes. In “Marriage Story”, a soon-to-be-divorced couple Charlie and Nicole Barber, played by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johanson, come to grips with the end of their relationship. Charlie is a successful theater director who encouraged Nicole to move out with him to New York for his theater program at the beginning of their relationship, consequently putting her acting career in Los Angeles. Once they are both done with one of Charlie’s New York productions and falling out of love, Nicole moves out to California with their son to pursue her dreams while ignoring her mother’s advice of staying with Charlie. Soon follows is a lengthy and stressful divorce battle from opposite sides of the country with a son in the middle of it all. The sad thing about how the characters interact is you can tell that they still love each other deeply despite the intense fighting inside and outside the court. However, it felt like they were obligated to stay with one another without the inspiration of being themselves.
This year, Booksmart came and blew the top off of what you would expect from a coming-of-age story. The movies follows two quirky “book smart” girls, Amy and Molly, who are about to graduate high school and realized the worked too hard and didn’t party enough. This leads to a night packed with wildness, including an accidental drug trip, overheard porn and some heartfelt female friendship moments. And that’s what truly makes the movies so great. This movie manages to be inclusive and progressive, with a plus-sized woman and a lesbian leading this movie, without revolving the story around these facts. There is no “acceptance” storyline in relation to these facts, they’re just who they are. Amy and Molly support each other 100%, without question, no competition even though they’re both top students. Conflict naturally ensures in the plotline, but it’s resolved with its signature comedy and female friendship. This movie hit all the boxes in a modern-day hit, inclusion, progressiveness and some seriously quirky humor that’s sure to make you laugh out loud and tug at your heartstrings.
8. “Knives Out”
9. “Avengers: Endgame”
Avengers: Endgame, a conclusion to a two-movie saga that began with Avengers: Infinity War was released in April earlier this year. It was a monumental movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and while many would argue that it was not the best cinematic release of the year objectively, it still deserves a spot on our list. Audiences everywhere were gearing up for the release of this movie, and it had such a great impact on superhero movies as a genre, as well as pop culture. The first movie in the Marvel franchise was Iron Man and was released in 2008. The title character, Tony Stark, received an incredible and albeit heartbreaking conclusion in this film, and fans all over witnessed his legacy end in this film. Avengers: Endgame brought together a diverse and extensive army of heroes spanning across multiple series in the franchise, and had diehard Marvel fans in theaters everywhere yelling “Avengers Assemble!” The wide range of comic book characters coming to life in this film, from the pages to the big screen, meant so much to people everywhere, making it an important moment in comic book history. Their powers and skills working together in the final battle of the movie was a feat in of itself. The culture surrounding this story and the stories that have come before it, in a 20+ movie series, brought together so many fans of superheroes. Avengers: Endgame was essentially created for fans who have stuck around since the beginning, and it was the nostalgia that really made this movie one to remember from this year, and even this decade.