By Tay Yek Keak
With a new year, new decade, and new movies to look forward to, it’s always apt to glance back at what gave us the most pleasure, fun and satisfaction in the past year. Here are 10 of the best films that came to our cinemas in 2019:
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
In hippie-era Hollywood of 1969, washout actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and best pal-stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) look for work while Dalton is the neighbour of rising starlet Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). Meanwhile, the cult clan of the infamous Manson family filled with brainwashed young girls gathers to carry out evil deeds. Forget the truth. You watch a Quentin Tarantino film for its sensationalised pulp fiction. In this entertaining, gorgeously decorated and expertly mimicked 1960s retro retread scripted like a gonzo expose, you suspend your knowledge of actual murderous hell for a slice of carefree fantasy.
Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), loner, loser and sad-sack party clown, becomes the painted-face Joker, future arch-nemesis of Batman who’s portrayed as a child here. From an unloved outcast, the Joker transforms into an unleashed outcast leading a revolution of violent anarchists. How the heck could a movie about a super villain be this good? Because Phoenix looks as dangerous and as unhinged as he acts and the script dares to unsettle while it taps right into the chaotic age of Trump. This unconventional, uncompromising film understands the collective power of the angry misfits out there who are seething on the margin and about to fall off the edge.
A black family of four vacationing in seaside Santa Cruz encounters another black family of four looking exactly like them. Except that these lookalikes are the creepier, violent version. As the family tries to escape, their silent, sinister doppelgangers turn out to be part of a bigger scarier secret that’s submerged, literally, from view. Director Jordan Peele’s (Get Out) horror movies focus on outsiders out of place in normal society. We’re spooked alongside the besieged family as they find themselves facing themselves. In a similar mirror image, every time the bulging eyes of Lupita Nyong’o (playing the wife here) widen bulbously in utter fright, our fears widen considerably too.
Ford v Ferrari
In the heady 1960s, utilitarian American car company, Ford, takes on European racing royalty, Ferrari, in the prestigious 24-hour car endurance race at Le Mans, France. Fronting the Ford team are the flashy American entrepreneur-inventor, Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), and hot-tempered British car racer Ken Miles (Christian Bale). Half the joy in watching this old-school speed flick is the racing itself. You can’t believe this is a crazy true story. The other half to savour in Ford v Ferrari is seeing Damon v Bale. They squabble, quibble, clash and even fight on the grass like schoolkids. But together, they move this terrific drama like top-line Formula One race cars.
An elderly granny in China is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Her family, reluctant to break the bad news to her, organises a grand wedding to bring the extended brood together for one last time with her. Her blunt granddaughter (Awkwafina) from America, though, wants to tell her the truth. What’s great about Beijing-born writer-director Lulu Wang’s charmingly simple story, based on her own grandma, is how it is funny, poignant and observant in relatable little ways for Asian viewers especially. This isn’t so much a clash of culture or customs. It’s more a clash of opinions, all of which come out in delightful vignettes to reinforce the warmth and true meaning of family.
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
By now, John Wick has sort of evolved into the gold standard for insane violence porn. Coupled with Keanu Reeves’ trademark wooden acting which somehow adds to the mystique and draw of this cult-worshipped series. In Part 3, the former hitman has become so much a marked man in his nebulous order of assassins that he hightails to Morocco to, once again, brandish this series’ brand of gun-knife-assorted-implements mayhem as an art form. Add dogs to the weapons list as Halle Berry pops up as Wick’s ally with two ferocious canines kicking and biting butt in a truly exciting display of ballistic and balletic dogfu.
To truly enjoy the potty-mouthed, R-rated antics of the trio of schoolkids here, it’s best to send the kids to bed first. This winsome threesome (Jacob Tremblay, Keith L. Williams, Brady Noon) are so funny in their mini Seth Rogen-ish escapades together you won’t ever want to see boring old Stand By Me again. These good boys are actually not-so-good boys in crashing a drone into a teenage girl’s lawn which sets off a hilarious chain of juvenile male-bonding adventures involving parties, drugs, cops and grown-ups who just don’t get Tremblay’s urgent pint-sized purpose in life to kiss a girl in his class.
In the frozen wasteland of the Arctic, a place so isolated and dangerous that even the helicopter coming to rescue him crashes, Mads Mikkelsen is stranded with a severely injured female rescue crew member. To get help from afar, he needs to pull her in a sled over treacherous snow, ice and hidden crevices which make one strength-sapping step feel like one thousand. There are two monumental landscapes to be mesmerised by in this superbly sparse survivalist tale. One is the glacial landscape of the merciless Arctic. The other is the facial landscape of the merciful Mikkelsen. With just a few words, the expressions on his face speak volumes about humanity defying the most extreme adversity.
A struggling South Korean family of four infiltrates the seemingly secure home of a much wealthier family by getting themselves hired in various positions – driver, tutor, housekeeper, art teacher – in an elaborate scheme to get out of poverty. Unbeknownst to everyone, including the owners, the house itself has hidden layers of secrets which force both families to confront each other and their own demons in a most murderous way. Director and co-writer Bong Joon Ho’s Palme d’Or-winning masterpiece is a clever black comedy of both classy and class proportions. Residents and intruders alike dwell in a well-defined social stratum that collapse under the weight of a tenuously fake co-existence. As this film ingeniously shows, it is a structure that can sink right into its basement.
I Want To Eat Your Pancreas
Sakura is a bubbly high school student who hasn’t got long to live due to a pancreatic illness. Haruki is a sullen loner in her class whom she chooses to spend her remaining time with primarily because he doesn’t really seem to care. At first, that is. As with most anime romance movies adapted from Japanese novels (writer Yoru Sumino), there is always a sweet coming-together of things with this one being especially sweet. Both widely differing characters – she is full of zest, he is full of restraint – converge in destiny in delightful details so human, moving and melancholic that you will be hard pressed not to shed a tear of both joy and sadness despite knowing full well what will eventually happen here.
Tay Yek Keak is a movie buff who enjoys watching films, talking about films and occasionally writing about films. But astonishingly, he still can’t think and chew gum at the same time. /TISG