Top Films in 2019

I like to say that film appreciation is akin to wine appreciation. I can’t tell YOU what your favorite wine will be as it’s a matter of so much more than just palate. You judge things by bringing your experiences, your emotions, your predilection for what’s new as opposed to tried and true.

My favorite films are the ones released this year that I managed to see, either at theaters or festivals. That leaves out many smaller films that are getting a 2020 release and many films that I didn’t find warranted a long drive. Living in the mountains limits what films I can get to…especially since we no longer have a movie theater in Telluride, Colorado while it’s under construction. I also don’t consider terror or violence to be entertainment. So if you’re looking for accolades for war movies, mobster films or Horror…look elsewhere. Yes, I know US was amazing. I’m sure 1917 and Midsommar were too, but I won’t be seeing them or making time to watch The Irishman. You all enjoy.

The Film that made me Swoon

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (PORTRAIT DE LA JEUNE FILLE EN FEU)
Director: Céline Sciamma, limited release Dec 6, US release Feb 14th (how perfect!)

At once moving and mysterious, Portrait of a Lady on Fire has a wonderful soundtrack, gorgeous cinematography and an unusual love story. An 18th century French portrait painter must paint a young woman’s image without her knowledge. When romance blossoms, she must use her talent knowing she will lose her lover to another. A sublime romance; French writer/director Céline Sciamma won the Best Screenplay award at Cannes. This is a gorgeous romantic film and the chanting of the women gathered around the fire will linger in your mind. This is one film to seek out.

The Funny Sad Film that will make you hug your Grandma

The Farewell, Director: Lulu Wang, now re-released in certain cities to take advantage of award season

Director and Writer, Lulu Wang won accolades for her touching, personal film. The Farewell won Audience Favorite at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. The emotional story follows a Chinese American family traveling from America for a fake wedding. The immediate family have decided to hide the truth about their matriarch’s diagnosis and the wedding is an excuse for everyone to say goodbye. Awkwafina is perfectly cast as the American daughter straddling two cultures; her character is a fictionalized Wang. The Farewell is based on a true story about Wang’s family which the director first shared as a story in a 2016 episode of This American Life. It was released early in 2019 and now re-released and I’m glad that some audiences will get to discover this gem of a film.

The Stand Out Rock Film of the Year

Rocketman, Director: Dexter Fletcher

Yesterday, Blinded By the Light and many great rock documentaries and movies about music were made this year. What sets Rocketman apart is the amazing performances and costumes that make you want to dig out your platform shoes and join the fun. Both the young boy, Matthew Illesley and Taron Egerton are outstanding. One weak supporting role is Bryce Dallas Howard. Undone by her reputation as a sweet person, she comes off as a caricature and isn’t helped by poor old-age makeup. There are some dark moments in this Elton John biopic and there’s no sugar-coating depression and suicide. Having the story unfold thru flashbacks from a counseling session at an addition facility is brilliant. It’s nice to see a tale of triumph as opposed to a rock star biography that ends in death. Taron Egerton does all his own singing and Elton John has applauded his performance. I hope Egerton gets an Oscar nomination.

The Quietly Profound Film

Queen & Slim, Director: Melina Matsoukas, in theaters now

An amazing directorial debut from Grammy award winner, Melina Matsoukas. Her skill directing music videos like Beyonce’s Formation, was likely good training for this powerful film of a couple on the run. Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) and Jodie Turner-Smith navigate an awkward first date that ends tragically and forces them to flee the country. Days spent on the lam create an intimacy to their relationship, and Matsoukas use of voice-over to share their thoughts reveals another level of nuance. This is not a violent film (save for the key scene and ending) and as the couple travels across the country, they encounter a need for urban heroes and a reckoning of the awful toll of American racism. This is a drama that feels like a documentary. This is an important film.

The Film I’m seeing more than once

Little Women, Director: Greta Gerwig, in theaters now

There have been many versions–both stage and screen adaptations–of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel. This is the definitive version. A perfect melding of superb cast, a screenplay that does justice to Alcott’s intention (she never wanted her lead, Jo March to marry) and intimate cinematography that brings the audience right into the family fray. A period drama both funny and touching, that allows each of the March girls a voice. Little Women is charming, beautifully realized and a feminist retelling.

The Most Fun Film

Captain Marvel, Directors: Anna BodenRyan Fleck

Not all film-going experiences have to be about changing the world. Sometimes you just want to go cheer on a hero! I like my heroes to be women in women-directed films if I have a choice and thankfully, this year we had Captain Marvel. I enjoyed Brie Larson‘s performance and the otherworldly nature of the story. Her chemistry with Samuel Jackson was hilarious and it was a fun ride.

The Charming Animated Film we didn’t know we needed

Klaus, Director: Sergio Pablos, on Netflix

An Animated Christmas film that has a refreshing sensibility, Klaus is a retelling of the Santa legend. This time we’re on an island where a postman must prove his worth amid warring clans. The Klaus of this tale is a woodsman in a beautiful snowy retreat. The animation is gorgeous, the dialogue equal measures witty and snarky and the resolution is delightful. A new classic for families to share.

The Most Audacious Film

JoJo Rabbit, Director: Taika Waititi, still playing in some theaters

Who makes a dramedy about a little boy who’s imaginary friend is Hitler? Who can walk that fine line between slapstick and pathos? Taika Waititi created this film of wild emotional swings and exuberant performances. The children are amazing actors and Sam Rockwell seems dropped in from a Wes Anderson film but also perfectly cast. This film is astonishing.

The Film I thought would bore me but was intriguing

The Two Popes, Director: Fernando Meirelles, Netflix

The performances by Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce are mesmerizing but it’s the fascinating look at the politics and intrigue of the Vatican that make this film thought-provoking. I expected pomp and politics, instead it’s a warm humane look at two public figures and their unexpected friendship.

Two Films that I’d have liked much more without their last 15 minutes

Parasite, Director: Bong Joon-ho — Brilliant film with crazy twists but the violence left me reeling.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Director: Quentin Tarantino — Awash in nostalgia (and close-ups of feet), I loved the central performances by Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio. If I’d left the film 15 minutes before credit roll…

Want to spend Halloween with Daniel Craig?

Opening Night Film: Knives Out starring Daniel Craig on October 31st

Have you planned your Halloween costume for next week? A witch, a ghost or maybe that old standard, a film fan? Yes, this year you could go see The Rocky Horror Picture Show for the fourth time or you could dress up and come to the Opening Night of the 42nd Denver Film Festival. You’ll be in for a wicked good time at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. Daniel Craig stars as the pipe-smoking sleuth in this Agatha Christie-styled Who Done It, Knives Out. A star-studded cast — Chris Evans, Toni Collette, Jamie Lee Curtis, Christopher Plummer and others — has fun with devious motives and suspicious back stories. Director Rian Johnson has long been an Indie favorite. Brick (2005) is one of my favorite films. With this big-budget mystery and the Christmas release of The Rise of Skywalker, Rian Johnson is a rising star and I wonder if he’s feeling the pressure of a universe of Star Wars fans.

There are many films I’m looking forward to seeing at this year’s DFF. There are films I missed at other festivals like Motherless Brooklyn, Edward Norton’s directorial debut, Cunningham, a brilliant documentary about Iconic choreographer Merce Cunnigham, Clemency with an emotional performance by Alfre Woodard and Marriage Story, the latest from Noah Baumbach that’s receiving accolades for both of the film’s stars, Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver. I’m excited that DFF is screening WOMEN MAKE FILM: A NEW ROAD MOVIE THROUGH CINEMA, Mark Cousin’s 14-hour documentary screening over several days in Parts One-Five.

I was thrilled to learn that a few films from DFF’s extensive program will be screening at the Lyric Cinema in Fort Collins. The Lyric has wonderful programming already but they’re doing a great job of including local and traveling film festivals screenings. The Front Range is lucky to have them. You can skip the drive to Denver and still catch one of my favorite festival films there.

Selecting what films to see at a film festival can be a daunting task. This year’s Denver Film Festival features International Programs (Brasil, CineLatinX, UK/Ireland, French films, Italian films). CinemaQ highlights Queer Cinema, Women + Films hosts seminars and a lunch and there’s Culinary Cinema, Spotlight on Colorado and SeriesFest. Plus special guests, Virtual Reality, panels, theater and parties. There’s even a silent film from Russia with local favorite’s Devotchka supplying the soundtrack! The festival starts with a tribute to longtime DFF Artistic Director (taken from us too soon), Brit Withey with a screening of some of his favorite films on Oct 30th. So what programs should you choose and where to start?

There are three films that were my favorites at other festivals that I consider must see movies. 17 Blocks wowed me at MountainFilm this year and it won the Best Documentary Feature. What could’ve been an oft-told tale of family dysfunction is elevated by first-time filmmaker, Davy Rothbart. This is a decade’s long collaboration with intimate footage shot by the children and adults–all willing to bare all to bring this story of addiction and gun violence and ultimately, hope and resilience to the world. A challenging story that leaves you celebrating the human spirit.

Tickets: Wed, 11/6, Fri, 11/8, Sat, 11/9

At once moving and mysterious, Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Portrait de la jeune fille en feu) has a wonderful soundtrack, gorgeous cinematography and an unusual love story. An 18th century French portrait painter must paint a young woman’s image without her knowledge and when romance blossoms, she must use her talent knowing she will lose her lover to another. A sublime romance; French writer/director Céline Sciamma won the Best Screenplay award at Cannes. Gorgeous and lingers in the mind.

Tickets and trailer: Thu, Oct 31st & Sun, Nov 2nd @ the Sie Film Center and Sat, Nov 1st @ The Lyric

One film that I wasn’t expecting to enjoy, The Two Popes had me fascinated and engrossed in this tale of two diametrically opposed Catholic Popes. Played by the powerhouse talents of Anthony Hopkins and Jonathon Pryce, Fernando Meirelles directs this tale of two men with very different aspirations coming together to change the direction of the Catholic Church. Based on the real Pope Francis and Pope Benedict– these intimate conversations are fraught with tension, yet comical at times and filled with the urgency to reach an understanding. An insider look at how powerful men of the cloth might communicate away from the pomp and circumstance. Fascinating.

Tickets and trailer: Red Carpet Presentation ($30), 11/9 @ 2pm

If you’re looking for something fun and light, I really enjoyed The Aeronauts with Felicity Jones and Eddy Redmayne. The Centerpiece film, Waves, has an unusual structure and interesting soundtrack. It’s worth seeing to discuss with your family and the director, Trey Edward Shults will be on-hand to discuss his film and he’s a director to watch. Varda by Agnès is a fascinating documentary by and about the delightful and groundbreaking French Director. Even if you don’t know Agnès Varda’s work, you’ll learn so much about filmmaking.

Spend some time looking at the schedule for 42nd Denver Film Festival, there are some ticket packages that make it more affordable. Plan your own cinema celebration Oct 30th thru Nov 10th!