Posted Jan 05 2020
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The Last Word On 2019

With a recent death in the family, a team member in a diabetic coma AND a cardiac arrest – one of us was dead for a full 8 minutes – very weird! – things here at Last Word Slopes have been a bit erratic of late. Thus, our traditional look back at what most recently was is running a bit behind. For that we apologise. But that’s all we apologise for.

Happy New Year!

 

11: ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD

Yes, we know we’re cheating, (it’s supposed to be a Top 10) but what year don’t we?  We have 11, and by having a joint number one, we guess that makes it 12. QT’s 9th looks like our eleventh (but is sort of our 12th) – but we don’t really care!

Quentin’s look at the Hollywood of his childhood was not him at the top of his game – but any game Tarantino offers up is always worth a look and pretty much always impressive. This was him reworking history again – done Hitler, might as well move on to Manson – but in his usual, idiosyncratic bravura style, as ever drawing fine performances from the finest in town, in this case especially DiCaprio and – more than anyone – a career best from Brad Pitt.

 

10: WESTERN STARS

An exquisite film, designed to capture the year’s most exquisite album. Bruce Springsteen chose to reinvent both himself and the Jimmy Webb-influenced arrangements of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s Californian singer-songwriter sound, and then, rather than touring the record, decided to film a one-off concert, playing the record in full, with a band and a thirty-piece orchestra, that he guided and ruled with all the authority he brings to E-Street.

 Taking a co-directing credit for the first time, this was a masterful and beautiful performance (even better than the studio album) in an almost cathedral-like setting. And we defy anyone who saw it (which sadly wasn’t enough) not to want to own that barn!

 

9: RICHARD JEWELL

Clint Eastwood’s latest was ignored by audiences and faced some criticism from critics over the depiction of a female journo (Olivia Wilde) and her sexual proclivities. But put that aside, and this was a beautiful character study of a small group of people all trapped in the small rooms around them. The little-known Paul Walker Hauser was truly impressive as the true-life titular security guard, who discovered a bomb planted during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and then found himself accused of planting the device in an attempt to ingratiate himself with the law enforcement world he longed to join. Easily one of the finest performances of the year, Hauser was matched by a never better Sam Rockwell as an attorney who saw an inner decency in the man, and Kathy Bates as his mother, struggling to cope with…well, everything.

As fine as these performances were however, it is Eastwood’s classically understated and low-key direction that wrangles this movie into shape. Simple, elegant, and utterly emotionally compulsive - damn, but that man knows what he’s doing.

 

8: BOOKSMART

Olivia Wilde (se also her work in Richard Jewell, above) made her feature directorial debut with one of the wittiest, smartest movies of the year. With Kaitlyn Dever and Bernie Feldstein both note perfect and then some as two lifelong hard-studying friends, who decide to finally make up for lost time and party the night before graduation, only to find out having fun is not as easy it looks. Especially when a drug-fuelled Barbie animation gets in on the “fun.”

A clever take on an established genre, that proved – yet again – there is always plenty of life left in the teen movie – in the hands of the right people.

 

7:  JOJO RABBIT

Taika Waititi, having already gone big time mainstream with Thor Ragnorak, decided to head off to Nazi Germany and make a funny Hitler movie. And play Hitler!

This is here for many reasons – it’s a damn fine film – but the one reason that stands head and shoulders above all its virtues, is it has the best ending of any movie we’ve seen in years. As the film ends, the war ends, our two central child characters find liberation but not love, but hear their future, inside their heads – and it’s Bowie! Simply ridiculously beautiful.

 

6: JOKER

Todd Phillips took a distinct left turn from his Hangover-oeuvre and delivered the darkest superhero movie since the glory days of Chris Nolan, with this Scorsese-infused tale of Arthur Fleck, the failed stand-up comic who grew up to become the greatest sociopath the DC universe would ever know. Yes, it owes a huge debt to both Taxi Driver and (even more so) King of Comedy – something that De Niro acknowledged by coming on board and essentially morphing into Jerry Lewis. But it was also smart and original on its own terms, enough so that it went on to join the still fairly rarefied Billion Dollar Club. A whole part of that was of course the truly remarkably performance of Joaquin Phoenix, deeply lost, profoundly troubled and edgy as all fuckery. If that man isn’t nominated, the Oscars should just shut down and go home!

 

5: LITTLE WOMEN

Greta Gerwig follows her sublime Lady Bird by going back to Louisa May Alcott’s perennial and giving it a spin that both honoured the original and made it wonderfully modern. Incorporating elements from all of Allcott’s books in the series, and providing her perfectly cast cast with dialogue that defied the era without ever sounding too contemporary, Gerwig established herself as a true force behind the camera. And in an ensemble to die for – Pugh, Chalamet, Streep, Dern, Watson – it was the divine Saoirse Ronan who gave us her Jo March to utter, sometimes heart-rending perfection.

There have been many versions of this tale already told, but if any movie is deserving of the oft-overused term “instant classic” this year, it may well be this one. And evidence once more that the Academy should have an award for casting - well done BAFTA for getting there first this coming year!

 

4: THE IRISHMAN

Scorsese’s final gangster epic? Ntflix’ biggest run at the Academy to date? (Although let’s not rule out Marriage Story – see below.) The sprawling de-aged Irishman (or is it called “I Hear You Paint Houses” – as it says at the beginning), the director’s genre masterpiece managed to be both sprawling (at a running time of 3 and a half hours), and yet remarkably concise, largely due to pristine (through the ages) performances from De Niro, a resurrected Pesci and a brilliant Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa.

Epic cinema on a genre level – who care if Marty likes Marvel or not – the man is clearly still at the top of his game.

 

3: PAIN & GLORY

Almodovar (having dropped the Pedro) at his most personal, with long-time companion Banderas serving as his avatar, this was the Spanish auteur’s most autobiographical and humane film to date. And that’s a large body of work to apply that epithet to.

With Banderas playing an ageing filmmaker who has fallen out of love with his art, Pain & Glory is however, never dour or prone to wallowing – this is a film rich in humour, suffused with heartbreak and, ultimately, redemptive. It sees Almodovar using an on-screen variation on himself out of touch with his own talents and abilities, whilst simultaneously being delivered by a man at the very height of his own powers. It is – even in its quietest, most understated moments – nearly always deeply emotional and profoundly moving. A love letter to cinema, but one that is presented by its actual delivery more than its subject matter.

 

2: MARRIAGE STORY

Noah Baumbach channelled the collapse of his marriage to Jennifer Jason Leigh, into this timely tale, that moved between being devastatingly sad to almost ridiculously funny at times, drawing career best performances from both Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver – both of whom break hearts on an almost minute to minute basis. Comparisons to Kramer Vs Kramer were made – and were obvious – but Baumbach’s film is perfectly contemporary, finding the ennui in long-term love and his characters’ inability to deal with it. It is ultimately a sad film, but then again, it was meant to be.

 

1: AVENGERS ENDGAME/YESTERDAY

OK, so we’re cheating - having two in the top spot, but it really became impossible to choose here at Last Word Slopes.

The former was not only a beautifully executed block buster that dragged the whole world (more or less) out to see it – but also a remarkable feat in epic cinema, drawing together a whopping 21 previous movies – not to mention an entire Cinematic Universe – and making sense of it all. It was profoundly emotional, deeply moving, spectacular in its action, and equally spectacular in the way it presented – and grew – its characters. Proof, if proof were needed (yes, Mr Scorsese, we’re looking at you!) that Marvel have become the dominant filmmakers of our age. We loved it 3,000.

The latter, meanwhile, knew how to do handclaps in Marigolds. The very notion of Danny Boyle directing a Richard Curtis script about The Beatles had us at “Hello.” The fact that it was so smart, inventive, moving and humane had at us “Goodbye” as well. And for all the debate about its import, that crucial (spoilers be damned!) John Lennon scene, brilliantly summed up the movie’s overall theme – John, Paul, George and Ringo may have written and played those songs, but they don’t really own them anymore. They’re ours.

 

HONOURABLE MENTIONS – Just a couple that made the early drafts, but not the final cut.

BLINDED BY THE LIGHT

Relegated here largely because it felt simply too churlish to have two Springsteen-enthused films in one Top 10 (12, whatever.) Gurinder’s Chadha’s inspiring tale of a young Muslim boy from 1980s Luton, finding his way in life via discovering his love of the music of Bruce was impossible not to like. At times a comedy, often a drama, and occasionally a full-blown all-out proper musical, the movie (obviously) benefitted hugely from Springsteen allowing the production to use his music and lyrics. The dogs on Main Street do indeed howl, 'cause of course they understand – this is a beautiful movie.

MID ‘90s

Led by a simply brilliant central performance by young Sunny Suljic, Jonah Hill’s debut as a writer/director is a perfectly honed, deeply felt, very funny and equally moving coming of age movie that can’t help but impress.

With its skateboard-based milieu, you could draw comparisons to last year’s underrated Skate Kitchen, but Mid 90s (set in the mid 1990s btw) stands on its own as a beautifully observed, subtly underplayed, and yet profoundly emotional movie. All of which leads to a final two minutes that not only lends the film its title, but proves to be joyous. Absolutely joyous.

BEST ANIMATED

TOY STORY 4

We didn’t know we needed another Toy Story. Boy, were we wrong. (Whisper it softly – but it may even be the best of the bunch!)

WORST FILM OF THE YEAR

CATS

Some called it “Clawful” or even “Pawful.” Others said “Catastrophe” or “Catastrophic.”

We simply went with “Catshit!” We were all right.

 

So there you have it. A year that at times produced some pieces of wonderment; at others, more than occasionally underwhelmed. We’ll keep the best bits with us, but ultimately, we’re quite happy to say goodbye to 2019 and wave hello to the new decade.

 

 

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