Every year at this time, I choose my 10 favorite images from films in the year. These are those particular shots that really stuck in my mind, made an impact, or became an indelible memory of the film for me. So, without any further ado, here are those ten that affected me the most. (Oh, and as always, there are spoilers ahead, so you’ve been warned.)
The movie PARASITE, by filmmaker Bong Joon Ho, starts out as a comedy of manners. A low-class family cons their way into the home of a rich family to be caretakers of their children and household. It’s a dark comedy about the class system in Korea, but it’s really commenting on anyone’s station in life and how difficult it is to get to the next stage. Before they take over the Park family’s swank home, the Kim family thought they had it bad living in a below-ground-level apartment. Soon enough though, they’ll discover someone living a much lower existence – right there in the secret basement of the Park’s house. The little Park boy has seen him roaming the home at night, thinking it was a ghost. A flashback shows us exactly what he saw and indeed, it’s a terrifying sight. Hands down for me, it was the scariest and most memorable moment in any 2019 film.
My favorite scene in a movie this year is contained in Noah Baumbach’s MARRIAGE STORY. Charlie (Adam Driver) is a divorcing father, fighting his wife Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) for custody of their young son. He tries his best to impress the social worker (Martha Kelly) evaluating his worthiness one night, but then he accidentally cuts his arm with his pocketknife and tries to be nonchalant about it. As the bleeding continues, the social worker can’t help but notice. The hilarious and heartbreaking scene reaches its zenith when she can’t get the door open to exit. As Charlie watches her struggle, blood escapes down his arm, along with any chance of retaining custody. What a shot.
PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE
At the end of the eighteenth century, Marianne (Noemie Merlant) is a painter, tasked with capturing the likeness of a reluctant bride-to-be named Heloise (Adele Haenel). What starts as a tempestuous relationship between artist and subject grows into friendship, then lust, and love. They bond over being outsiders, as well as similar tastes in art and literature. They find particular fascination in the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, leading to a lively discussion of why Orpheus turned around to look at his wife. As their affair ends, and Heloise’s arranged marriage beckons, she invites the exiting Marianne to turn around. Marianne does and sees her lover in her wedding dress, bringing a shocking and definitive end to their relationship, just like that of Orpheus and Eurydice. The way that director Celine Schiamma shoots the moment startles us as much as it does Marianne, finishing off the stunning image with an iris dissolve to black that makes it all positively chilling.
Early in BOOKSMART, Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) drives up to pick up her BFF Molly (Beanie Feldstein) for school. It’s not just a stop though, it’s an opportunity for Molly to make an entrance, and for Amy to join her in an impromptu dance celebrating their friendship. It’s sweet, nerdy, and hilarious as the moves of both are at best, eccentrically awkward. These two are in their own little world together and it’s a hoot. Director Olivia Wilde even turns off the soundtrack music halfway through their dance to reveal that the music is all in their heads.
Rian Johnson reinterpreted the all-star whodunnit for a modern era with his comedy-mystery KNIVES OUT. He twisted around Agatha Christie’s tropes with relish, yet stayed true to her mainstay of an eccentric detective. Johnson’s investigator Benoit Blanc is a Southern gentleman played to comic perfection by Daniel Craig. Johnson furthered the fun in how he introduced him. Blanc remains a blank for his first minutes of screen time, shot out-of-focus in the background behind the local cop (LaKeith Stanfield). Creating a mystery out of just who is the stranger plinking the piano keys in the background? It killed!
Director Danny Boyle’s YESTERDAY isn’t a great film, but it is an intriguing one. After a strange cosmic accident, struggling musician Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) wakes from a coma to realize that in his new existence, no one has heard of the Beatles. Wanting to restore their legacy, as well as make millions singing and claiming their songs as his own, he becomes a worldwide phenomenon. So, if the Fab Four never existed, what became of the fellows who made up the band? Jack looks up one of them, and the reveal of an older and happy artist living in the country named John Lennon (Robert Carlyle) made for a moment that transcended the one-not idea of the film. Imagine that.
The first superhero movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe featuring a female lead was 2019’s CAPTAIN MARVEL. Brie Larson played pilot Carol Danvers (AKA Captain Marvel) in the 1980’s period piece, and in one scene, she flew high into space with fellow pilot Maria (Lashana Lynch) and tagalong tabby Goose. Co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck come from the world of comedy and it shows in wonderful shots like this one where the cat just floats about, quietly enjoying zero gravity.
FORD V. FERRARI
In the action-drama FORD V. FERRARI, Henry Ford II wants an American sports car to beat the Italian-made Ferrari at Le Mans in 1966. Thus, he sets out to do so with an esteemed team of designers and drivers. Ford (Tracy Letts) is a bullying S.O.B. and when designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) has had enough of his attitude, he loads him up in the sports car and gives him a 120 MPH test-drive. Director James Mangold shows Shelby spinning Ford around the dangerous track, rendering the CEO scared-shitless and weeping like a baby. It’s a sublime moment with the marvelous Letts letting go as you can see in this hilarious still.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD
Few films this year received more water cooler discussion than Quentin Tarantino’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD. His story of an aging actor (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his best buddy, an aging stunt man (Brad Pitt), reckoning with the new Hollywood of 1969 was both amusing and elegiac. Age is a bitch in any walk of life, but in Tinsel Town, it’s a horror show. Pitt’s old-timer Cliff Booth is lucky to get a job stunting for the TV show THE GREEN HORNET. Still, he can’t just let young upstart Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) brags about his prowess as a lethal weapon. Booth calls B.S. on the show’s star and their argument turns into a little 2-out-of-3 brawl. Lee scores a knockdown first, but during the second round, Cliff throws his opponent into the side of a car. It’s one of the best sight gags in a film all year, one talked about a lot at those water coolers.
I LOST MY BODY
Few animated films are stranger than I LOST MY BODY. It starts with a severed hand escaping the lab where it’s being held to start on a journey of self-discovery. That means back to the body it came from, as well as the history of the owner. Naoufel, the young man who lost the appendage, is a lost soul trying to navigate his way through a difficult existence. He’s such a mess the poor schmo can’t even deliver pizzas on time. One customer named Gabrielle calls him out on his shit when her pie arrives, late, cold, and damaged. Their conversation over the building’s intercom turns into a makeshift therapy session. As directed by Jeremy Clapin, and voiced by Dev Patel and Alia Shawkat, the simplicity of the static shot of their conversing becomes mesmerizing in its simplicity and intimacy. It proves that stillness, even in animation, can often be as moving as any action.